Friday, June 10, 2016

TOP STORY >> City crews out spraying

Leader staff writer

Keith Pichon and Hal Toney know every street in Jacksonville, every “Beware of Dog” sign, every couple that spends their summer evenings playing with their kids on the front lawn, every pothole and the woman who jogs after a long day at the office.

They know every overgrown, water-filled ditch serving as the perfect mosquito hatchery.

It’s their job.

There are six large ditches in Jacksonville and countless smaller ones, Toney adds.

Both men work for the city’s Public Works Department. Pichon is an operator who has been on the job for five years, and Toney is street department supervisor who has logged 35 years with the department.

And after their regular day shift, the two men spend a couple evenings a week through the hot summer months on mosquito abatement duty. The department divided the city into six sections, and usually has two drivers spraying somewhere in the city Monday through Wednesday for three to four hours each evening starting around dusk.

“We try to stay on schedule,” Toney says.

Operators are familiar with chemicals like chlorpyrifos and malathion and the precise measurements needed to be kill mosquitoes. The chemicals are switched at times throughout the season so the mosquitoes don’t become immune to a particular chemical or its chemical family.

Their applications aren’t dangerous to the public, but Public Works Director Jimmy Oakley says they turn off the sprayer, which is attached to the back of a city pickup truck, when people are around.

Toney says, “We’re very mindful of the public.”

Employees also work to keep ditches mowed, and free of debris and weeds. Oakley says about the city’s abatement program, “It’s our biggest line of defense,” and it keeps mosquitoes from taking over the town.


Pichon often listens to a ball game or music as he cruises up and down Jacksonville streets at about 15 mph.

“You can’t get in a hurry,” he says. If they run the sprayer trucks too fast, the insecticide application isn’t effective because the wind will carry it up and away.

A light breeze is perfect for application, and, he says they must hit the mosquito with spray in order to kill it.

Their routes aren’t haphazard but carefully planned and within a three-day period, two trucks, working between three and four hours a night, are able to spray the entire city, or about 135 residential road miles.

This includes neighborhoods and other city attractions like playgrounds and ball parks. Of course, not while the kids are playing.

The city sets aside about $25,000 annually to pay for the insecticides and other materials needed for the abatement program. The operators’ salary are absorbed through the street department, Oakley says.

Employees are also trained in the latest practices.

Toney says, “We send them to mosquito abatement class throughout the year.”

Spraying for mosquitoes usually starts as the temperatures soar into the 90s—or when Oakley spots the first mosquito of the season in his backyard—and continues until the temperatures drop in late September or early October.

Like trash pickup, it’s not a glamorous job, but it’s got to be done, Oakley says. And like the garbage piling up at the curb, it’s obvious when mosquito abatement isn’t done, because insect populations grow.

When that happens, there’s the possibility of more mosquito-borne illnesses, especially in the South, where there’s a growing list of diseases, such as malaria, chikungunya, dengue and yellow fevers, encephalitis, West Nile virus, as well as heartworms in dogs, and eastern and western equine encephalitis in horses.

Oakley says the West Nile virus continues to be a concern because the state Health Department has reported a number of cases in central Arkansas.


Now the Zika virus, labeled as an “emerging virus” by U.S. health officials, is on Oakley’s radar.

In less than a year, Zika has been detected in more than 40 countries and U.S. territories, including the Caribbean, Puerto Rico and the Americas.

To date, the Centers for Disease Control and Preven-tion reports there have been about 618 cases of Zika in the U.S., all are travel-related. So far there have been no mosquito transmitted cases in the U.S., the CDC says.

But those numbers and disease transmission changes drastically in U.S. Territories, with the CDC reporting 1,110 locally acquired cases.

Zika is now knocking on the United States’ southern door, and no fence at the border will be able to keep the virus from spreading from Mexico into the U.S. The aedes mosquito, both the aegypti and albopictus varieties that are known to spread the virus, already call the region home.

And this year, with the worry of the Zika virus and the birth defects, the city’s vigilance is critical to possibly prevent a local outbreak if the virus makes its way to Arkansas, Oakley says.

In newborns, the virus can cause microcephaly, which is characterized by small head size.

Oakley says Jacksonville is paying attention to the latest from the Health Department and the CDC concerning possible mosquito infestation with the Zika virus.

He says his department follows the Arkansas Health Department’s lead and recommendations on vector control.

According to the Health Department, the aedes mosquitoes are active during daylight hours and are aggressive feeders. So it’s possible dusk spraying times may not be as effective but at this time, Oakley says, “we have had no direction from the Health Department to do anything different.”

Oakley is asking residents to look around their own yards and empty or dispose of all containers — even bottle caps — that can hold water.

Change pets’ water bowls at least twice a week, treat water features with larvacides to prevent mosquito eggs from maturing, cover rain barrels with a mesh designed to keep insects out and empty any standing water.

Try to eliminate any and all mosquito-breeding areas, he says.

Most mosquitoes travel only 100 or 150 feet from their birthplace, so the ones that are ruining a backyard cookout or birthday party probably hatched only a few feet away, he says.


It’s an opportunity to do a little cleanup and potentially protect the health of the next generation, says Jacksonville code-enforcement officer Charles Jenkins.

He was referring to an announcement by the Arkansas Health Department and the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality about the free waste and tire collection service offered by Bridgestone Americas.

ADEQ Director Becky Keogh said in the news release, “Arkansas has a Waste Tire Collection and Management Program to advance recycling and proper disposal. However, there are still abandoned tires causing problems across our state.”

While not a major problem in Jacksonville, Jenkins describes discarded tires as a “significant” one and is a risk to the health of the city’s citizens.

Old tires act as excellent nurseries for aedes mosquitoes. Both aedes species are found in Arkansas.

“We’re very concerned and we’re trying to be proactive,” Jenkins says. In addition to the removal of old tires, he recommends draining old wading pools, unused birdbaths—anything that could hold water and serve as a mosquito breeding ground.

Mirivel says Bridgestone Americas’ free waste and tire collection service is called call TIRES4WARD, and she encourages residents to take advantage of the program.

“Bridgestone will accept any brand of tires from cars and light trucks, as well as commercial truck and bus tires that are separated from their rims…The tires should be clean and free of soil and debris,” she says.

Also, the TIRES4WARD initiative offers free collection of old tires recovered from organized cleanups of public lands, rivers, streams and lakes.

Residents involved in volunteer cleanups can request this service at