Mosquito spraying of homes in central Santa Ana has drawn the ire of the local school board president, who says he’s not happy about a lack of advanced warning from Orange County’s mosquito control agency.
“It’s very upsetting when we receive an hour’s notice about the spraying in the city. We have no way of being able to communicate with our families…How are they gonna protect themselves?” said John Palacio, president of the Santa Ana Unified School District.
Jared Dever, a spokesman for the Orange County Mosquito and Vector Control District, which conducted the spraying Wednesday, said the substance that was sprayed – known as AquaDuet – is approved as safe, was sprayed in a focused area, and didn't affect the school district.
The spraying occurred in the vicinity of South Orange Avenue and East Myrtle Street, an area a few blocks south of Downtown Santa Ana.
“This is a wholly and completely different issue that does not involve Santa Ana Unified School District at all,” Dever said, adding that the spraying was done to private property only with the permission of residents.
“These applications to about 45 homes were made more than a quarter mile from any of the Santa Ana Unified School District properties. So there’s absolutely no chance that those activities could impact the school district in any form.”
Mosquito spraying by the vector control district drew controversy last year, when the district planned to conduct aerial spraying from a plan over central Orange County, including Santa Ana. But after a significant public backlash, the plans were scrapped.
Concern about aerial spraying remains, with more than 100 people protesting against it at the vector control district’s board meeting Wednesday. District officials responded that they've never done aerial spraying, nor do they currently plan on doing so.
Regarding the targeted spraying, Palacio took issue with Dever's contention that it does not affect the school district. He said it does impact students and parents who live in the area, including families whose children attend Santa Ana High School, which is about a 9-minute walk from the area sprayed Wednesday.
“Our parents, our students, live there [in the area that was sprayed]. So you’re talking about impacting our parents and our students who are walking to and from school. And for that reason alone, we should be given sufficient notice so we can hopefully get the word out," Palacio said.
As for the substance, Dever said residents and homeowners in the area were “advised of what the chemical is,” it was used in “very small quantity,” and was applied only to plant leaves.
Palacio took issue with characterizations that the spraying doesn’t pose a health risk, pointing to a press release last year from the vector control agency advising residents to take precautions like staying indoors during spraying from trucks.
“If the spraying is not harmful, why do they say to make sure to close your windows and that you cover your pets’ food and water?” Palacio asked.
Dever didn’t immediately return a follow-up message asking for a response to Palacio’s health concern.
(Update: Dever said after this article was published that the type of spraying last year, in which residents were advised to stay indoors is "fundamentally different," from what was conducted Wednesday. He said: "The treatments [Wednesday] were made using backpack applicators on private [property], not public parcels or spaces. The type of application it sounds like he is referring to is truck mounted, area wide adulticiding. The applications that were made [Wednesday] to suppress the invasive mosquitoes are fundamentally different, impacting only the yard in which the adulticide was applied.")
The spraying, Dever said earlier, was prompted by a phone call Tuesday from a Santa Ana resident to the mosquito control agency about mosquitoes. The spraying targeted the yellow fever mosquito, which can spread the dengue and chikungunya viruses.
Dever said it was important to spray the area quickly while the mosquitos were still there, and that he held back the spraying crews for about 12 hours so city officials could be notified.
“The moment that we determined there was this infestation there, we put the wheels in motion very very quickly,” he said, adding that the only way to really get the mosquitos is “to treat them as soon as you find them.”
Vector control officials notified Santa Ana City Manager David Cavazos about the spraying “first thing in the morning” Wednesday, Dever said.
“We want to be good partners with our cities for sure,” he said.
Later that morning, at 11:25 a.m., the city sent an email to the school district notifying them about the spraying. The spraying was expected to be concluded about a half hour later, at noon, according to the email.
Palacio said there should have been much more notice to the school district, which has a method to immediately send out electronic messages to students and parents in certain geographic areas.
“We understand the concern [about mosquitos], but they also need to understand they need to give communities sufficient notice so that we’re able to communicate,” said Palacio.
And sending an email isn't enough, he added. "Somebody has to make the [phone] call.”
Dever said that while three Santa Ana Unified board members were “in the loop from the very beginning," more communication will take place going forward when spraying occurs.
The spraying also comes amid heightened anxieties about a growing number of Zika cases in the U.S. The virus, which is spread by mosquitos in South America, causes severe birth defects and has reached epidemic levels in Brazil.
As of last Friday, there were 153 confirmed Zika infections in California, including 10 in Orange County, according to state health officials. However, all of the people infected got the virus while traveling outside of California, the officials said.
Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.