Mosquito spraying raises concerns among beekeepers

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — While likely no one will be upset to see mosquitoes go, Sunday’s aerial spraying in parts of 14 West Michigan counties has sparked concern for bees and butterflies.

The plan is to use an ultra-low concentration of the insecticide called Merus 3.0. 

Its Illinois-based manufacturer says the spray is Pyrethrum, an extract allegedly from the flowerhead of the chrysanthemum plant. It is supposed to be sprayed by a plane traveling about 175 mph from 300 feet above, delivering about a tablespoon of the active ingredient over an acre.

Map with shaded areas
A map provided by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services shows the areas (shaded in blue) aircraft will spray pesticide to kill mosquitoes.

While the treatment is expected to be about 85% effective in killing mosquitoes, health officials have admitted the spray can harm bees that come into direct contact with it. 

>>MDHHS: FAQs for aerial mosquito spraying

While the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services says the impact on the bees will be minimal, beekeepers like Betsy O’Neill are on edge.

“I’m just worried more about the residual effects — what’s gonna be there in the morning, what are they gonna get into,” she said. 

O’Neill has her hives in Caledonia and has been raising bees and gathering honey for about five years. She takes an organic approach she refers to as “pro bee.” 

She’s worried about bees and butterflies, as well as the bats that eat the insects and the impact on water they drink. 

“Definitely what we want to first go to is the humans. But as humans, we need all these integral parts of nature and it’s there for a purpose,” she explained. 

West Michigan’s beekeeping community called on its members Friday to contact their health departments at the state and local level. 

Health officials did their best to allay fears, pointing out the organic nature of the mosquito spray being used and the extremely low dose that they say will dissipate in the air as it falls and poses no risk to humans and animals. 

“This isn’t something you see on TV or out in the more rural communities — a crop duster for agricultural pesticide. This is different,” said William Nettleton, a medical officer for Kalamazoo and Calhoun counties. 

“The application is not expected to have an impact on bees. Like most insecticides, Merus 3.0 could be harmful to bees if they come into direct contact, however the insecticide application will occur after dusk when bees are expected to be in their hive,” Kalamazoo County health officer Jim Rutherford emphasized Friday.

O’Neill understands the balancing act between human health, and she appreciates the fact that spraying is being done from dusk until dawn when bees are usually inside. 

But she’s still considering precautions.

“I’m probably going to lock my bees in their hives. We’re gonna put a little screen over their entrance and keep them in for a couple of days,” she said. 

Health officials say that beekeepers can use wet burlap to cover bee enclosures as an additional measure. 

The MDHHS has said property owners in the spray area can opt out by emailing their name and full mailing address to at least 48 hours before spraying begins.

However, state health warned that opting out would reduce the overall effectiveness of the treatment and neighbors upwind of the opt-out area would not see mosquito numbers drop.

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