Miami Beach doesn’t want naled but the county’s gonna keep spraying it

Some Miami Beach residents do not want naled. They made that pretty clear at a commission meeting on Wednesday. But the city of Miami Beach doesn’t actually have the ability to do much about naled spraying and it’s going to happen again on Sunday morning, despite residents’ outrage.

That’s because there’s two layers of government here: the city and the county. And the county is calling the shots on spraying for mosquitoes. Miami Beach can’t stop the use of naled unless it takes the county to court. And many of the commissioners aren’t prepared to do that or stop using naled unless there’s an equally effective alternative to curb the spread of Zika.

Here’s what the commission did decide on:

Miami Beach is:

  • Looking into using more environmentally friendly alternatives to naled, including ramping up usage of a larvicide called BTI, bacillus thuringiensis israelenis.
  • Looking into using more environmentally friendly alternatives, perhaps genetically modified mosquitoes that kill adult mosquitoes
  • Putting together a mosquito control panel composed of scientists

It’s not:

  • Going to take Miami-Dade County to court to get them to stop using naled.
  • Going to stop the naled spraying scheduled for Sunday morning

It wasn’t easy to come to these pretty simple decisions. If you’ve ever been to a commission meeting, then you probably think you can picture the scene. You can’t.

This was not that kind of commission meeting. The room was packed (with overflow to an outside room) and everyone was shouting over each other. People were angry.

At the core of the anger is that a lot of people in Miami Beach don’t believe that Zika is as much a threat as the effects of toxic insecticides. We talked with a few of them:

“All of the studies show that Zika isn’t that dangerous and naled is … I want them to stop scaring people with Zika and just be honest which is a lot to ask from politicians.” – Yorkys Rodriguez

“We’re acting too rashly and unfortunately we’ve seen in the past … we act too quickly without seeing the consequences.” – Finn Hinke

“I, like him, have lived here for many years. We know people who firsthand are suffering from some of the side effects. … When you do the research there are statistics that are showing that [the link between microcephaly and] Zika is not really 100 percent … I’m more concerned about what the effects of naled are. We need to control the mosquitoes but we’re so much more advanced than this. There’s a better way. I feel like the commission isn’t answering our e-mails or listening to us like they should.” – Pia Malatesta

“It’s offensive that they’re spraying a neurotoxin when Zika hasn’t even been linked to microcephaly in the first place. It’s a huge health concern not just for us but for everyone, the water, the bees. The key point is that these chemicals affect fetuses and small children. It couldn’t be any more obvious that there’s money involved. … I’m more afraid of naled than Zika.” – Alba Gosalbez (Editor’s note: Zika has been linked to microcephaly in this peer-reviewed study and this peer-reviewed study, among others.)

When OB/GYN Dr. Christine Curry explained the science linking Zika and microcephaly protesters, the crowd yelled, “It’s not.” Many remain unconvinced that Zika is the cause of birth defects.

Other experts were on deck too: J. Sunil Rao, professor and director of the Division of Biostatistics of the Department of Public Health Sciences at UM and Tomás Guilarte, the dean of FIU’s Robert Stempel College of Public Health & Social Work. They all made the case for controlling Zika.

(The room was pretty tense, but when Guilarte went up to the stand, one person in the crowd cheered for him. Mayor Levine responded with “That was your mom.” The whole crowd giggled.)

Guilarte suggested creating an independent scientific panel to study other mosquito control methods and both acknowledged that there was a lot we don’t know about Zika and that naled is a toxic chemical. The commission was all for it.

The big ticket item was a resolution submitted by Commissioner Michael Grieco to stop all use of naled in the City of Miami Beach and to allow the city attorney to seek legal action if it’s not discontinued.

What Commissioner Grieco wanted was an injunction: lawyer speak for an official order that forces the county to stop spraying naled. The city has gone against higher government entities before, defying the state on the minimum wage and a ban on styrofoam. But neither of those were a public health crisis that could spread.

The city attorney said the city was unlikely to win that court battle and it would cost a lot of taxpayer money to even try. Grieco did not get the support of the commission, so his motion failed.

A resident in the crowd repeatedly asked for a two-week halt to the use of naled, but it didn’t seem to get on the commission’s radar. His last and final attempt was pretty much ignored. So that means the spraying of naled is set to continue on Miami Beach this Sunday.

There was a bunch of commotion and the conversation ended kind of chaotically. Commissioners went to recess and when they came back they were talking about trees.

Protesters stayed seated in the chambers, but when they and realized the naled talk was over, the room slowly emptied.

At the tail end of the meeting Oxitec, a firm that creates genetically modified mosquitoes, offered its services as an alternative, an item that was placed on the agenda by Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez. The city might start looking into it as an alternative to other chemicals, but there are plenty of protests against that, too.