Tick controls pose potential hazards
Last Saturday I attended the Tick Control Awareness Day on behalf of the Jamestown Conservation Commission. There is no question that the spread of disease by ticks is a serious problem in Rhode Island and the presenters from URI did an excellent job of informing us on the hazards of tick bites. However, I have a very serious concern regarding the method they recommend for treating a homeowner's property with a high volume application of a powerful insecticide. The presenters suggest that the insecticide permethrin be sprayed from a tank truck onto a 2-4 foot buffer in forest or thick vegetation on the perimeter of a homeowner's lawn. The logic of this spraying is that if a resident goes into the forest right at the margin of the lawn, he or she will not run the risk of being bitten by a tick. While the presenters noted that permethrin has moderate to low toxicity to humans, it is well known to have a very high toxicity to fish, cats, and, of course, insects, including honey bees. The presenters also stated that the companies that apply the chemical are careful not to spray near water courses or ponds.
The toxicity and time that the chemical would remain in the environment is dependant on the concentration of the application, which appears only to be determined by the judgment of the man with the hose. Given the significant number of small water courses and wetlands in Jamestown, some of which fill our aquifers and others drain into the bay, there is a risk that landscape application of this chemical could pose an environmental hazard both on land and in adjoining waters. I have very little confidence that any commercial vendor would be qualified to distinguish appropriate and nonappropriate places to spray the chemical. The potential environmental impact of this chemical has not been well studied.
I suggest that Jamestowners not resort to applying permethrin as a landscaping insecticide. I don't think that this will at all diminish the campaign to control ticks, because by far and away the most effective prevention techniques are those that are applied to the person and the pet. In any case, the spraying of this insecticide in an narrow perimeter band in the forest will have very limited effectiveness in controlling tick populations. All it takes is for the homeowner to step beyond the band of sprayed leaf humus and he or she will enter an area that could be inhabited by ticks. It seems logical that if a homeowner is very concerned about ticks in the forest, he or she could simply stay on the lawn where ticks do not survive. This simple precaution could reduce the possible contamination of water courses and also potential harmful effects of the forest and aquatic environment of Jamestown. Perhaps instead of spraying insecticide into the forest, we should simply stay on the grass.
Mark Baker Jamestown Conservation