Hundreds of property owners in northeastern Massachusetts are opting out of mosquito spraying amid worries about pesticides, which is complicating efforts to combat the lethal viruses carried by the insects.
Spraying began this month in 32 cities and towns on the North Shore and Merrimack Valley that are organized in a regional effort to control the mosquito population.
But, as in previous years, hundreds of property owners have opted out. Their concerns range from spraying’s impact on honey bee colonies and organic farms, to fears about toxic pesticides.
Voters in two towns – Marblehead and Swampscott – have banned the public use of chemical pesticides entirely and instead rely on methods such as using traps to kill mosquito larvae.
Mosquito control officials said large numbers of opt-outs have made spraying ineffective in some areas, creating a public health concern.
“Mosquitoes don’t know boundaries,” said Bill Mehaffey Jr., superintendent of the Northeast Massachusetts Mosquito Control and Wetlands Management District. Its boundaries stretch from Methuen to Amesbury, down to Salem. “They can travel miles for a blood meal.”
The state has nine regional mosquito boards. State officials couldn’t provide numbers on how many property owners opt out of the program.
Mahaffey said he is still tallying this year’s numbers for the northeast district. Last year, about 600 opted out, he said.
Cities and towns that join the district pay up to $45,000 every year for spraying and other preventative measures.
Homeowners who want to opt out are required to send certified letters to local officials. Some Beacon Hill lawmakers want to make the process easier.
Legislation filed by Sen. Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, would allow municipalities to include an “opt out” provision on their annual census forms.
His bill arose from a dispute between state agriculture officials and Boxford, where hundreds of property owners opted out of the program over concerns about pesticides contaminating their drinking water wells.