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Commercial Mosquito Control: Great Marketing or a Threat to Sports?

15 Jun, 2016

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
While Companies Are Marketing Themselves as a Best-Case Scenario, Officials Caution Against Widespread Spraying

It was bound to happen. In the wake of the Zika virus, the industry of mosquito control is poised for exponential growth. What used to be limited to drugstore sprays has morphed into full-fledged barrier and misting systems that are used on lawns and at special events. And outdoor sports events that need to draw crowds play into becoming the next generation of customers for widespread commercial mosquito control systems

Already, Zika virus concerns have forced the Pirates/Marlins series out of Puerto Rico (which could ill afford the lost revenue, by the way) and has made organizers of other events start reconsidering their options. The resultant thought of potential losses has many organizers of summer events where mosquitoes are common starting to consider strategies like the services of companies that use barrier sprays or timed-release pesticide misting systems as a way of not only making bugs back off, but putting attendees’ minds at ease. Some companies are already actively marketing themselves as a pest solution for Little League events. And as Zika continues its threatening pattern into the U.S. (see a current map here by the Centers for Disease Control), count on this kind of commercialization to become more prevalent.

However, the question comes up: are those systems, the ones that are being marketed so heavily to managers of outdoor events, actually recommended for widespread use? Will they gain a foothold in sports? And if they do, what are the risks?

Even the pest control industry is treading carefully on this one. The American Mosquito Control Association, the scientific/educational group that has been overseeing mosquito issues since 1937 (long before Zika came into popular knowledge) has noted its concerns on both the efficacy and safety of the time-release misting systems popularly in use in both residential and commercial properties. AMCA’s concerns about unnecessary pesticide use and risks to people from exposure to chemicals are chief among those concerns.

As early as 2012, Connecticut and New York passed laws severely restricting synthetic pesticide use on school grounds. Many other states and municipalities followed, making the use of specific pesticides, or types of pesticides, illegal on property (including sports facilities) on the grounds of schools in those areas.

But school sports facilities are only one type being used. Many other sports venues are situated near, or in, areas where there are schools, neighborhoods, businesses and more. Some abut wildlife or nature refuges. There is significant potential for impact upon what is known as these ‘non-target’ areas through uncontrolled drift, or through runoff.

The AMCA notes that many commercial mosquito control systems advertise the fact that they use synthetic forms of pyrethrins called pyrethroids. Pyrethrins are the natural byproduct of the Chrysanthemum flower. Synthetic pyrethroids have a similar chemical structure as the pyrethrins, and are used in commercial products such as household insecticides, pet shampoos and sprays. However, the AMCA states, “such products bear the signal word ‘Caution’ on the label, and the precautionary statements indicate that they may be harmful if inhaled. Labels also advise that pets and birds be removed and aquaria covered before spraying.”

In other words, this may be satisfactory for the area being sprayed, but does not guarantee the safety of the area nearby that will get the spray but not the warning.

The potential impact on athletes of the various ‘all-natural’ chemicals is also unknown. Already, athletes who are headed to Rio are already worried about exposure to pesticides and other chemicals being sprayed into the air, into buildings and on bushes, and whether such chemicals might trip up their drug tests. And in the rapidly changing landscape of drug testing (remember that so many athletes were unaware meldonium was banned that more than 100 positive test results were caught within weeks), the potential of mosquito systems is unknown. But more importantly, will mosquito control systems (either those used abroad or domestically) have long-term health ramifications for athletes? What about for spectators, officials and others?

All things considered, many outdoor sports facilities may want to allow concessionaires and souvenir suppliers to begin selling plain old drugstore-grade mosquito repellant. In addition to being a less worrisome alternative, it might be an unexpected revenue stream.

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