Proposal: US Air Force to assist Salt Lake City in mosquito abatement

Wasatch Front News

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Utah (ABC4) – When people have a mosquito problem they run to the store and get some spray. When a city has a mosquito problem they call in the Air Force, well, at least in Salt Lake City’s case.

While the event itself has yet to be officially approved (see the bottom of the story for how to get involved), Salt Lake City has issued a notice and proposal to residents of an upcoming aerial pesticide application. 

Ary Faraji, Ph.D., MS, BCE, Executive Director and Entomologist for Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District tells ABC4 the Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District, SLCMAD, provides mosquito surveillance and control measures for the residents of Salt Lake City and surrounding areas. 

“Our primary mission is to ensure the public health safety of all of our constituents from mosquito-borne disease and to enhance their quality of life by ensuring that nuisance mosquito populations are kept at tolerable levels,” Faraji shares. “We value every single individual within our jurisdiction and do our best to ensure that mosquitoes and the pathogens that they harbor have limited human and veterinary impact.” 

Faraji says aerial mosquito management applications are conducted only as a last resort. “These applications are never conducted based on a schedule or recurring cycle. In fact, only a small portion of operations are dedicated for this method,” Faraji adds. 

He says aerial mosquito control applications are conducted in efforts to prevent high numbers of mosquitoes from dispersing from wetland habitats and biting residents and to prevent the transmission of pathogens to people from mosquitoes. 

The need for such applications is determined through an intricate scientific surveillance system that monitors mosquito populations throughout the course of the active mosquito season, generally between May and October, Faraji explains to ABC4. 

SLCMAD has over 40 surveillance traps strategically placed throughout Salt Lake City. Faraji the department monitors the number of mosquitoes that are present in space and time, the species composition of those mosquitoes, some a greater health threat than others, and the pathogen infection rates found within those mosquitoes. 

“Aerial applications are only conducted when established surveillance thresholds have been breached and when increased virus activity has been detected in mosquito populations.” 

Faraji says aerial applications are not conducted over urban or suburban habitats of Salt Lake City, only in rural habitats concentrating over wetland areas north and west of Salt Lake International Airport and will only ever be conducted at night. The upcoming applications are expected to be from August 30 to September 3, 2021. 

When the notice of the aerial applications was posted many residents were informed SLCMAD proposed the U.S. Military assist in the applications. According to Faraji, ”the United States Air Force has a Spray Unit with Entomologists that respond to epidemics and natural disasters on a national and global scale.” 

The Air Force is often deployed after catastrophic events like flooding, hurricanes, or tornadoes. 

They currently work with a variety of districts across the United States on similar projects through a program called the Innovative Readiness Training, IRT, Civil-Military Partnership, Faraji shares. “In fact, they are also conducting herbicide applications in Utah through this IRT program with other partners in response to cheatgrass.” 

Cheatgrass is an invasive plant that crowds out native plants and increases wildfires in Utah. 

The Air Force will also become involved because it provides valuable on-going training for their expert staff during times when they are not responding to an emergency situation, Faraji adds. 

“Our interest in working with them is not to increase our aerial applications, but rather to substitute a few of our existing operations using a paid-for-service aerial contractor that we currently utilize. The intent is to have the Air Force conduct one or two applications for us that we would be normally paying our contractor to do. This would lead to an immediate cost savings for our District and thus the residents of Salt Lake City,” Faraji shares. 

After the application is done, SLCMAD is required to write an Environmental Assessment, EA, that must be vetted through local government groups within the area.

Faraji says the EA was sent to the Utah Department of Environmental Quality in the Division of Water Quality, the UT Department of Health in the Environmental Epidemiology program, and the local chapter of the US Fish and Wildlife Services. 

In addition to sharing the process with government agencies, Faraji says he wants the residents of Salt Lake City to be involved. He says he understands this can be a “controversial topic” and appreciates how SLC residents are passionate about health and the environment.

“I want the public to completely rest assured that all aspects of our operations are driven by science and our surveillance. We do not conduct any applications unless deemed absolutely necessary.” 

He says chemical control is often the last resort within the district’s operations, but a very necessary component for mosquito management and that all products used are labeled specifically for mosquito control provided through the Environmental Protection Agency and regulated through the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Federal pesticide labels are deemed law. Faraji tells ABC4 they abide explicitly by their requirements.

“We feel very confident about our operations and the methods that we are using,” Faraji shares.

Want to ask a question or have a concern you want to be addressed? See a copy of the Environmental Assessment. The submission of comments will close on March 31, a final decision will be made during April board meeting.

Learn more about Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District.

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