EPA Basically Bans Anti-Mosquito Pesticide As Zika Virus Hits Puerto Rico

(REUTERS/Jorge Cabrera)

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Michael Bastasch Contributor
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The New York Times ran a lengthy exposé on Puerto Rico’s fight against the Zika virus and buried at the bottom of the story is something the Environmental Protection Agency probably doesn’t want you to know.

The EPA effectively banned a powerful pesticide used to kill mosquito larvae by making it unprofitable for companies to produce the chemical. Puerto Rico only has a nine-month supply of the chemical, temephos, left in supply, according to the Times.

The NY Times reported Monday:

Moreover, by a “very inconvenient coincidence,” the Environmental Protection Agency has effectively banned the chemical used here to kill juvenile mosquitoes, Audrey Lenhart, a C.D.C. entomologist, noted. The chemical, temephos, has been in use since 1965 and definitely works, she said. But it is not very profitable, so when the agency demanded safety data costing about $3 million to gather, the manufacturers decided instead to quit making it.

Puerto Rico still has a nine­-month supply, Dr. Lenhart said, and the E.P.A. may issue an emergency use permit for more.

Zika, which is being spread by the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, has made it to Puerto Rico, and public health officials and medical professionals are scrambling to prepare the U.S. territory for a wave of infections.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prvention (CDC) projects one-quarter of Puerto Rico’s population will contract Zika, including thousands of pregnant women. So far, there have only been 249 confirmed cases of Zika, with 24 of them being pregnant women.

Scientists worry there may be a link between Zika and a microcephaly — a condition in which babies are born with abnormally small heads and suffer brain damage. Zika may also be linked to paralysis in adults, also called Guillain-Barré Syndrome.

“I’m very concerned,” Dr. Thomas Frieden, the CDC’s director, told the Times. “There could be thousands of infections of pregnant women this year.”

Zika has already spread through much of Latin America, causing alarm among the population and worries that people travelling back and forth from the region may bring the virus back to the U.S. — a worry that’s been amplified by evidence Zika can spread through sex.

There’s currently no vaccine or treatment for Zika, so officials have focused on stopping the disease. That’s a massive undertaking.

“You’re probably going to have to look at a military-style campaign of house-to-house [chemical] spraying,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, told the news site STAT in February.

“We should implement what was successful then,” Hotez said, referring to the mosquito-control methods that “eradicated Aedes in several Latin American and Caribbean countries from 1947 to 1962.”

But in Puerto Rico, efforts to eradicate Zika-carrying mosquitos haven’t made much of an impact. The island’s tropical climate is the perfect environment for mosquitoes to thrive, and it’s been hard to get rid of stagnant water where the insects breed.

“There’s a fair amount of pessimism about this among the people who tried to fight dengue and chikungunya,” Frieden said. “Really intense efforts to control mosquitoes have made very little impact.”

EPA, however, has been hit for taking effective pesticides off the market. In the 1970s, EPA banned DDT, a main reason the U.S. was able to eradicate malaria. EPA’s DDT ban convinced other countries, including poor ones, to ban the chemical, which resulted in an increase in the number of people dying of the disease.

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