Following local pilot, state sprays for mosquitos

Jessica Priest By Jessica Priest

Sept. 11, 2017 at 10:18 p.m.
Updated Sept. 12, 2017 at 7 a.m.

The baseball field, golf course and Texas Zoo at Riverside Park are seen from John Sterling's plane.

The baseball field, golf course and Texas Zoo at Riverside Park are seen from John Sterling's plane.   Ana Ramirez for The Victoria Advocate

If you can't beat them, join them.

And once you join them, beat them.

That's the philosophy on the Texas coast as pilots take to the sky to fight off mosquitoes in the days after Hurricane Harvey.

John Sterling, owner of Precision Flying Service, flew his plane and sprayed for mosquitoes over Port O'Connor, Seadrift, Point Comfort, Port Alto, Olivia and Six Mile on Sept. 3 and 4 after County Judge Mike Pfeifer asked him to, he said.

His plane flew 200 feet above the ground and sprayed an insecticide called Malathion. His plane can hold up to 630 gallons. He refilled it 10 times and covered about 15,000 acres.

Sterling, who started his business in 2010 but who has been a pilot since 1993, was surprised when his spraying got attention on social media. After all, he sprays herbicides and pesticides for farmers everyday. Sterling, 50, just wanted to help neighbors whom he saw the mosquitoes were making a meal of. He donated his time.

"I was kind of embarrassed, really," he said, chuckling.

Sept. 7, Clarke, a company based in Illinois, began aerial spraying for mosquitoes on a larger scale.

They were hired by the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Already, the company has sprayed Calhoun, Refugio, Jackson and DeWitt counties.

The company planned to spray Lavaca County on Monday night if the conditions permitted it, department spokesman Chris Van Deusen said Monday afternoon.

Van Deusen said counties can ask the department for aerial spraying. Victoria and Goliad counties have not asked.

He said the Department's contractors may spray as much as 7 million acres.

Clarke is experienced. Its workers sprayed Miami after Zika was reported there about a year ago. They are spraying to aid in disaster recovery, not because the mosquitoes are carrying diseases. As of Monday, no diseases have been reported.

"But that's certainly one of the concerns with this, the possibility that we could see an increase in the kinds of mosquitoes that can spread disease," Van Deusen said.

The federal government has promised to reimburse the state 100 percent for the aerial spraying because it is part of the disaster recovery and happening within 30 days of Harvey's landfall. After 30 days, the federal government's reimbursement rate drops to 90 percent, he said.

Clarke is spraying a type of insecticide it manufactures called "Duet" at a low volume that will kill adult mosquitoes on contact.

Van Deusen said it is safe for people to be outside during spraying, and the insecticide disperses quickly as between one and two tablespoons are sprayed per acre.

The department also measures its effectiveness by counting the number of mosquitoes before and after aerial spraying. They trap the mosquitoes by luring them in with lights or dry ice, the latter of which gives off carbon dioxide like people do.


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