Public Unease With Pesticides Hampering Zika Efforts

By David Schultz

Sept. 19 — Florida pesticide regulators expressed frustration at the public’s intense opposition to the use of bug-killing chemicals and worried it may be hampering their state’s ability to fight its ongoing Zika virus outbreak.

Complaints and protests against the use of pesticides have been growing louder, especially after an incident late last month in which the aerial spraying of pesticides in South Carolina led to a large die-off of bees.

Davis Daiker, one of Florida’s top pesticide regulatory officials, said the nature of this particular outbreak means that the public has an unusual level of visibility into mosquito control tactics. Unlike with other mosquito-borne diseases, he said, Zika is spread by a mosquito that is active during daylight hours and thrives in urban areas.

Daiker said some Floridians are recoiling at the idea of spraying in their community. “Some people say they’d rather deal with a mosquito bite ... than be ‘poisoned,’” he said at a Sept. 19 meeting of state regulators in Arlington, Va.

Local Transmission

Ultimately, Daiker said the public needs to understand that a pesticide that has undergone an EPA risk assessment is much safer than an emerging mosquito-borne disease that causes catastrophic brain damage in fetuses.

Currently, Florida is the only state in the continental U.S. where Zika-infected mosquitoes are spreading the disease, according to health officials. Any cases of the disease in other states had been acquired via travel abroad.

Daiker said his office has been actively working with local mosquito control departments in his state to support their activities. He said the size and capabilities of these departments varies widely. Some counties have their own dedicated aircraft and landing strips; others are simply “two guys and a truck,” he said.

Ironically, while some Floridians oppose the use of pesticides in their communities, others from outside of Florida want it to be ramped up.

Daiker’s colleague, Charlie Clark—an environmental administrator for Florida agricultural programs—has been tasked with answering much of the correspondence sent to the state’s governor on Zika. Clark said the vast majority of it has come from non-Floridians asking the state to resume using the banned insecticide DDT—something Clark said would never happen.

Bee Incident

Daiker’s and Clark’s jobs have been made more difficult by the recent bee die off. Tim Drake, a pesticide regulator in South Carolina, said the incident received international media attention.

However, Drake said some of the details of the incident have not been widely reported. For example, he said all of the affected bees came from 40 hives owned by a single beekeeper.

Drake said, based on the state’s investigation, the beekeeper took no precautions to protect these hives from the chemicals, even though the county put out a notice 48 hours prior to the spraying, twice as long as was statutorily required.

Drake also said the incident was likely worsened by the warm temperatures on the morning of the spraying, which caused the bees to congregate outside of their hives rather than inside. This left them even more susceptible to the chemicals being sprayed, he said.

Daiker said, ultimately, pesticide officials need to boost their communication efforts with beekeepers even further to avoid these types of incidents that can erode public trust in the government’s ability to safely combat the outbreak.

To contact the reporter on this story: David Schultz in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at

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