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Spraying for Mosquitoes: A View From the Passenger's Seat

COMMERCE - It's 91 degrees at 7 p.m. on a Wednesday and Daryl Martin is preparing to go for a drive. The same drive he’s taken every other week this time of year over the last decade.

"I got a control switch in my truck so I can activate the machine inside my truck - cut it on and off whenever I have to - when people are around," Martin said. 

That machine is a mosquito fogger. When dispersed while moving at 10 mph, a chemical called Biomist 30+30 is intended to wipe out mosquitoes in the vicinity and lower the local population.

The hot and humid summer nights in Texas are considered the peak biting time for mosquitoes. And mid-August is the peak time to contract the West Nile virus. This year has been especially bad for Texans… with hundreds diagnosed with the virus and over a dozen deaths. Neighboring Dallas County is experiencing the worst outbreak of West Nile in the nation so far this year, which has prompted the city’s mayor to issue an emergency and order aerial spraying for the first time in 45 years.

But for Daryl Martin, a foreman in the public works department for the City of Commerce, spraying for mosquitoes is nothing new. On this night, the insecticide was to be administered in Section D of the city. And after 10 years as the “mosquito man” you can bet Martin knows his way around town, and who his customers are.

With the air conditioning on full blast and the fogger in full throat, he spots a familiar pair in a woman and her dog.

“I’ll kind of give them enough time. I know she stays there. I pretty well kind of know where people stay. If I know they’re kind of walking off away from the house I’ll go another way on them. So she stays there and I know she’s heard me so I know she’s going to go in,” Martin said.

Biomist 30+30 is not considered toxic to humans. But residents are advised to stay indoors when the truck comes around, as well as bring in any pets. A courtesy tap or two on the horn, and those outside as Martin rolls by are quickly reminded to get behind closed doors for a moment. If he sees someone on a jog or just going from house to car, he waits, or turns off the machine as he passes.

Laura McGowan is a spokesperson for Clarke, the company that has been supplying cities like Commerce with the chemicals needed to control the mosquito population.

“The way that these work is that they’re distributed in very small amounts over a wide area. And when they come into contact with the mosquito they’re specifically designed to interact with a mosquito’s biochemistry to take them out, basically,” she said. “We use very small amounts of product. Basically, .8 ounces treats an acre. So you’re talking about two tablespoons that will treat a football field.”

Because the chemical is not residual, the more mosquitoes that come into contact with the product the more effective it is. For that reason, this particular product includes an agent that “excites mosquitoes,” drawing more of them out from hidden areas.

McGowan adds that these products are registered for use by the EPA and recommended by the CDC for these kinds of operations.

“The EPA has stated that when used according to label directions it poses no undo risk to humans and the environment.”

Still, it’s wise to stay indoors when spraying is being administered in your neighborhood. [Again, Daryl Martin.]

“They pretty much know now that I’m coming. Once they hear the machine when I crank it up, you can probably hear it about two blocks. So they probably know, ‘hey that guy’s spraying tonight. So take cover.’”

Martin says his machine is recalibrated every year to make sure the rate at which the product being dispersed is correct.

Overall, he’s greeted like just like any other neighbor - A wave here, a honk or two there, and an apparent appreciation by residents for fewer mosquitoes, and less of a threat against the West Nile virus.   

Spraying continues in the City of Commerce every other week through October.

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