Mosquito Control Efforts In South Carolina Kill Millions Of Bees

Sep 2, 2016
Originally published on September 2, 2016 6:40 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

So far Florida is the only place in the U.S. where mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus have been identified. One way health officials are trying to prevent more Zika cases is aerial spraying of insecticides. Other states have been doing this as a preventive measure, and in one South Carolina county there's been an unintended consequence - millions of dead bees. South Carolina Public Radio's Alexandra Olgin reports.

ALEXANDRA OLGIN, BYLINE: Beekeeper Juanita Stanley is not happy.

(SOUNDBITE OF FACEBOOK VIDEO)

JUANITA STANLEY: This is what's left of Flowertown Bees.

OLGIN: In this Facebook video, Stanley pans across a black tarp. It's piled with mostly dead black-and-yellow-striped bees. You can still hear a few buzzing.

(SOUNDBITE OF FACEBOOK VIDEO)

STANLEY: As you can see, the few that are alive are trying to help and save and clean up the ones that are dead.

OLGIN: This all happened earlier this week in the town of Summerville, which is nicknamed Flowertown. Stanley believes millions of her bees were killed by aerial mosquito spraying. The insects are vital because they pollinate fruits, plants and vegetables. Dorchester County, which is near Charleston, regularly treats for mosquitoes on the ground, but this is the first time low-flying planes were used and the first time Stanley wasn't notified.

DAVID CHINNIS: It was a mistake. This - it was a human error that happened.

OLGIN: That's chairman of Dorchester County Council David Chinnis. He and other county officials have apologized for what happened. The county is trying to control Zika. Already four travel cases have popped up in the area. And there are more in neighboring counties, and that's why they've begun the aerial spraying.

CHINNIS: I'm a native. I was born and raised in this. I can show you the mosquito bites on my legs.

OLGIN: Chinnis says the county plans to talk to Stanley about reimbursement. Andrew Macke lives about a mile away from Flowertown Bees. He keeps a few hives in his backyard, too. He says thousands of his bees died this week.

ANDREW MACKE: My driveway is about 200-feet long and it was just riddled right up. I walked through the gate, went around - the pool deck was covered with them. The pool - they were in the pool, and of course, obviously, they're all in the grass.

OLGIN: Macke says he's more concerned about Naled, the insecticide. The Environmental Protection Agency says it's been approved for almost 60 years, and it's currently used on more than 16 million acres in the U.S. That doesn't comfort Macke, although he admits it's effective, maybe a bit too effective, because along with those honeybees, the chemical probably killed even more wild bees and other insects.

MACKE: We have a large spotlight that lights up the parking lot. And my buddy says, Andy, look at the light. There's not a single bug flying around that light at 10 o'clock at night after the spring - not a single bug.

OLGIN: People are frustrated that an effort to control a handful of Zika cases has killed millions of bees. Bee populations are already struggling. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says the number of bees nationwide declined more than 40 percent last year. Dorchester County officials say they plan to notify people farther in advance of any spraying to prevent future bee deaths. For NPR News, I'm Alexandra Olgin in Charleston, S.C.. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.