BOSTON (STATE HOUSE) – Municipal public works employees and seasonal workers would be given back the authority to drop non-toxic pesticide pellets into storm drains in an effort to prevent an outbreak of mosquito-borne diseases, under a bill that has cleared the Massachusetts House.
Cases of West Nile virus and Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) surged in the last few years, and in 2012 two Massachusetts residents’ deaths were attributed to the mosquito-borne diseases.
State public health officials believe this year could bring another high-risk season.
Mosquitoes with West Nile live in small containers of standing water, and transfer the disease to humans. EEE is carried by birds and spread bird-to-bird by mosquitoes.
The legislation (H 3568) would restore emergency authority to public works employees to use pesticides in catch basins.
Tom Philbin, a legislative analyst for the Massachusetts Municipal Association, said allowing DPW workers to apply pesticides in storm drains will help wipe out breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
“It could save lives, and it doesn’t cost communities any money,” he said Thursday.
Public works employees were allowed to drop pesticides in catch basins from 2001 to 2009, but in 2010 the Department of Agricultural Resources decided against renewing employees’ ability to use the pesticides. State law reverted back to allowing only licensed professional pesticide applicators, leaving the job mainly to those who work at local mosquito control commissions.
Mosquito control board members have urged lawmakers to once again allow municipal employees to drop the pesticides, saying it would help them do their job to stop the spread of diseases.
Municipal officials have tried for years to get the authority restored. The House last July advanced an earlier version of the bill (H 757) which was amended Thursday and passed on to the Senate.