Categorized | Health, Southern Bronx

Community Board Member Requests Stronger Communications from DOHMH

Community Board 2 member Roland Lopez in front of his home in Longwood Historic District. Tate Hewitt for The Bronx Ink.

At the Bronx Community Board 2 meeting last month, Roland Lopez stood up to complain about lack of notice for pesticide spraying by the Department of Health in his neighborhood, Longwood’s historic district. Lopez, who is the board’s environmental chair, claimed that the DOHMH is not doing an adequate job notifying the public.

They’re not doing their job, Lopez said of the DOHMH, “none at all, no emails, nothing.”

Now, he was experiencing eye irritation due to pesticide exposure. He had scheduled a doctor’s appointment the next day. 

While local law and internal DOHMH policy require several types of notice, it’s not clear how closely these rules are followed. Lopez said he believes the current notice is not effective, and would like the Department of Health to improve its methods of communication to residents.

“They don’t do a good job announcing this,”  Lopez said of DOHMH notification procedures, “They don’t give a damn.”

The city periodically sprays pesticides in neighborhoods as a measure to control and prevent the spread of West Nile virus, “the leading cause of mosquito borne-disease” in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control. By keeping mosquito numbers down, the DOHMH can prevent transmission to the public. The department currently uses four pesticides to manage adult mosquito populations: Anvil 10+10, Duet, Deltaguard, and Merus 3.0. 

On September 21st in Longwood they were spraying Duet.

The department’s website states that the pesticides “pose no significant health risks to people or their pets,” but it also encourages people who are sensitive to pesticide to stay inside, seal off their air conditioners, and to wash skin, clothing, and produce that have been exposed.

The DOHMH policy is to notify residents when it is spraying. In this case, a department spokesperson said 4,000 fliers were posted in Lopez’s zip code (10455) and a neighboring area that was also sprayed (10459).

DOHMH public notice flier found at the corner of Southern Boulevard and Freeman Street in zip code 10459.

Lopez says he only saw one flier, and he didn’t notice it until after pesticide was applied in his neighborhood. He found out when it was announced on a truck loudspeaker minutes before his block was sprayed.  Lopez, who is 80, had to run inside to shut his windows.

“We have health problems, we are compromised with asthma. They wouldn’t do this in Riverdale,” said Lopez as he drove me around the neighboring community of Hunt’s Point, pointing out the heavy truck traffic that has been linked to high rates of asthma in the area, 

“There’s a tale of two cities.” He knows the neighborhood well, since he grew up in Longwood, and has lived there on and off for his entire life. For over 20 years, he worked in the neighborhood as a NYPD detective. 

According to their WNV plan for 2022, DOHMH procedure is to notify the public through the media, fliers posted in public places, and by notifying public-facing entities like hospitals, schools, and community boards. 

At the CB2 full board meeting, Chair Roberto Crespo acknowledged that the community board was also blindsided and that they’ve requested the DOHMH to attend the next health committee meeting to talk about improving communication.

In addition to fliers, the DOHMH posted a September 16th press release on their website, as well as a twitter post.

Local law 37 stipulates that any city agency applying these pesticides must notify the public at least 24 hours ahead of time. This notice must provide information about the pesticides being used, including EPA registration numbers, active ingredients, and numbers for the National Pesticides Telecommunications Network or the New York State Department of Health Center for Environmental Health Info line. This information was absent on both paper fliers and on notices posted online, but did appear in notices that ran in two newspapers – El Diario NY and the New York Daily News. 

The newspapers’ notices are for the entire city that cover a general timeframe of April 2022 to March 31st, 2023, and the large list of possible pesticides that might be used. 

The neighborhoods that are sprayed with pesticide are determined by the amount of mosquitoes infected with West Nile virus, a number tracked by the health department. Although there have been no infected mosquitoes detected in zip code 10455 recorded this year, they have been detected in 3 of 5 surrounding zip codes: 10456 (6 times), 10474 (8 times), and 10459 (7 times).

According to 311 data; for zip code 10455, there have only been two complaints of standing water in their neighborhood, the environment in which mosquitos breed. The same data shows that there have been no reported complaints of mosquito swarms in the neighborhood.

Transmission to humans has been low this year despite high numbers of infected mosquitos. There has only been a single Bronx case of West Nile in 2022. There have been forty cases citywide.

Lopez is less worried about West Nile virus than he is about the cumulative effects of all of the pollutants in his neighborhood, among them pesticides.

“This just exacerbates everything that’s negative here.” 

As Lopez drove me around his neighborhood, tears rolled out from under his sunglasses from the eye irritation. His doctor had prescribed eye-drops.

“Our complaints fall on deaf ears,” Lopez said.

“I don’t know what to do…maybe civil disobedience”

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