2011-07-08 / Top Stories

Summer Biting Back

By Howard Schwach

“Under the boardwalk, down by the sea,” might be a great place to be during the summer months in Rockaway, but living in a community hard on Jamaica Bay is a whole other thing, residents say. As with years past, ever since the city stopped spraying for mosquitoes unless West Nile virus was found in the area, the residents of Arverne, Edgemere and Bayswater are once again being plagued by swarms of the small but potent insects.

“It’s bad,” Charlene Tolliver, one of the few people who ventured outside the Ocean Bay Houses in Edgemere on a recent hot afternoon, told Daily News reporter Lisa Colangelo. “My grandson was bit so many times we can’t let him outside.” “We couldn’t even go outside to celebrate July 4,” said a Bayfield Avenue, Arverne resident. “I called [City Councilman James] Sanders, I called 311, I called the Department of Health, and nobody can help me. The health department said that they will meet in a couple of weeks to talk about the problem. In two weeks, I could be carried away by a mosquito.”

“This issue comes up every year,” says City Councilman James Sanders Jr., who represents the area. “I put money in the budget for spraying. I even offered to buy a spraying truck if it was mostly used in the district. The city says it doesn’t do so-called nuisance spraying.” Decades ago, pesticides were used freely in parts of the Rockaways and elsewhere to control mosquitoes. But that was stopped due to environmental concerns and other issues.

The city sprays larvacide in marshy areas and catch basins to cut down on the number of mosquito eggs in the area. But it only sprays pesticide to kill adult mosquitoes if West Nile virus has been detected.

“No West Nile virus activity has been detected in any of the mosquitoes collected in the city,” according the Health Department. “Should West Nile virus become persistent in the Rockaways, the Department of Health will spray for the control of mosquitoes to reduce the risk of West Nile virus.”

That answer doesn’t sit well with people who spend their summers fighting bugs instead of enjoying the warm, long nights. “This is a health hazard and a quality of life issue,” Jonathan Gaska, district manager of Community Board 14, who has long complained about the mosquito problem, told Colangelo. “We’re in the impossible situation of almost hoping we get West Nile-positive mosquitoes or dead birds here so they will spray. It’s silly that government is like that.”

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