At a crowded event last night that served as much for cathartic release of grievances as a forum for solutions, over 120 Upper West Siders vented their frustration over their out-of-control mosquito problems. Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal heeded the itchy cries of residents on and around West 84th Street who have been suffering from a bafflingly hard to quash infestation, rounding up city officials to hear their tales and explain what the city is doing to combat the insects. The result was a promise to coordinate efforts and take the problem seriously, which barely soothed a very frustrated population.
“It’s not [just] a nuisance,” said Lisa Perlman, who brought photos of her young son’s red and swollen leg after he suffered a mosquito attack. “These mosquitoes are biting and their bites itch like hell for days; they hurt like black fly bites.” She and dozens of other attendees said that they or their kids sleep under mosquito nets in an effort to keep them away but are sometimes up all night swatting.
Representatives from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Con Edison each explained to the public what they were doing to combat the localized pests. Mosquitoes breed in standing water, and despite residents’ best efforts to eliminate stagnant water from the area and the city flushing the sewer system over ten times in recent months, a single sewer trap is still catching over 300 mosquitoes in a day on West 84th Street.
Dr. Jody Gangloff-Kaufmann, an urban entomologist from Cornell University, explained the science of the problem and told residents that even little measures might help eliminate mosquitoes.
“If you find a bottle cap, get rid of it. If you see leaves in the gutters, get rid of them,” she said. “High participation is required.”
Gangloff-Kaufmann said that installing screens is the “number one urban pest control,” but acknowledged that they won’t solve the root of the problem.
Part of the difficulty in eradicating the pesky bugs is that it requires the coordination of several city agencies. For example, the DEP can flush the sewers, but it can’t pull up any part of the road without the go ahead from the DOT. The DOHMH is responsible for pest control, but they still have to work with other agencies.
While some at the meeting wanted to know why the city won’t just spray chemicals to kill all the larvae, others were quick to reject that idea, saying they’d rather not resort to poison in a residential area.
Part of the frustration people felt was due to the fact that because the species of mosquito found on the Upper West Side hasn’t been shown to carry West Nile virus, the city has treated the infestation as a nuisance rather than an imminent threat to public health.
“The premise is, if someone doesn’t die, you can go to hell,” said West 84th Street resident Abraham Newman. “This is just a small sampling of the people who are suffering day and night. They have no recourse, no one listens to them, no one gives a damn because no one has died.”
City officials also admitted that they don’t know exactly what the next steps should be. Rosenthal suggested that they all come to the location of the infestation and work as a task force to come up with more creative solutions, which all the agencies agreed to.
“I’m happy that this many people came here and that the agency representatives got to hear from them directly,” Rosenthal said. “I don’t think they grasped the magnitude of the problem.”
She also suggested that if the city can’t come up with a fix, they should bring in an outside consultant.
“It doesn’t seem that the city has responded in a way that is really going to solve the problem,” Rosenthal said. “They admitted, ‘I don’t know what the problem is, it’s a mystery.’ I mean that’s not acceptable. These are intelligent involved people and they’re not going to be happy until the problem is fixed.”
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