Dorchester County, South Carolina, didn’t have to nuke millions of bees with an industrial strength pesticide. But officials chose to fill the air with the toxic spray anyway. County officials sprayed Naled, a neurotoxin that kills a variety of insects, from airplanes on Sunday morning after the sun had already come up.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the entire state of South Carolina has reported just 31 cases of Zika, a disease which some mosquitos are known to carry. However, all of the victims of Zika contracted the virus while out of the country. The state has reported zero locally-contracted cases of Zika at all, which makes Dorchester County’s decision to use an airplane to dump Naled, well, overkill.
Most of South Carolina’s 61 species of mosquitoes are active during early evening, nighttime, and early dawn hours, according to the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control. Dorchester County is just northwest of Charleston, making its sunrise time just before 7 a.m., according to the U.S. Naval Observatory. On August 28, the spray occurred more than one hour after sunrise.
Dorchester County residents told local news WYFF 4 that the spray in Summerville — where beekeepers lost more than 2 million bees — occurred at around 8:00 a.m., when children were outside playing and families were heading to church.
“This happened in the morning, around 8 a.m. People were outside, kids playing, families leaving for church and the birds and insects were awake and the bees were foraging not during the night when they are mostly at the hive.”
Dorchester County officials claim they gave notice of the aerial spray but Flowertown Bee Farm’s Juanita Stanley, who lost 46 hives, claims she heard nothing about it. She told WYFF 4 that the county normally notifies beekeepers and that sprays usually occur at night using trucks. Stanley later learned that the county had given notice of the impending spray via a Facebook post a mere two days before the planned spray.
That was not enough time to ensure all beekeepers in the area had resources available to keep their bees safe, and it certainly wasn’t enough time to allow them to voice concerns over the timing and method of the spray, either. In short, Dorchester County handed down a death sentence to local bees, which could have serious ramifications for local agricultural businesses.
A search on Facebook for the official government page for the county turned up nothing except an unofficial page that had no posts since March prior to the bees’ deaths.
Why did Dorchester County dump Naled from overhead at a time when mosquitoes are not active? Why did they choose a time when people are leaving home? It was an incredibly thickheaded decision that not only killed millions of bees but also put people at risk of exposure.
In one fell swoop, Dorchester County officials may have endangered the state’s winter wheat crop, its commercial greenhouse nurseries, soybeans, peanuts, and even the egg, poultry, and beef cattle industries. The South Carolina Department of Agriculture says the state has approximately 25,000 farms spanning 4.9 million acres and a value of $3 billion per year. It remains to be seen how this complete massacre of bees will affect crops, but it cannot be good.
In 2004, the U.S. Agricultural Research Services released a publication stressing the importance of honey bees.
“For fruit and nut crops, pollination can be a grower’s only real chance to increase yield … When pollination is this important, farmers can’t depend on feral honey bees that happen to nest near crop fields. That’s why farmers contract with migratory beekeepers, who move millions of bee hives to fields each year just as crops flower.”
The paper states that the numbers of bees necessary to pollinate 420,000 acres of almond trees is staggering. Up to 1 million honey bee colonies are necessary for successful pollination resulting in profitable crops. In short, bees are essential for the cycle of life, for without bees, our food supply becomes seriously at risk. This is why the Dorchester County bee killing is so tragic; it illuminates the huge risk governments take on our food supply in a panicked effort to prevent a relatively rare virus.
While the ARS mentions the decline of honey bees, its focus is primarily on other pests and not on fatal pesticides. Naled is so toxic; it has been known to kill children who ingested it. While these fatalities are primarily in countries with little to no government regulations like India, the fact that Dorchester County sprayed this neurotoxin during a time of day when people are leaving their homes — and mosquitoes are less active — ought to be a major cause for concern.
In July 2013, National Geographic published a report about the death of four children in India due to organophosphate pesticide poisoning. The children were at school and had eaten a lunch consisting of rice, soybeans, and lentils cooked in oil. No one is sure which food (or oil) was contaminated, but the organophosphate level was so high that it killed these children quickly, in some cases, within hours.
The story then explains that organophosphates (like Naled) are so toxic to humans that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limits its access to the general public.
Exposure scientist Dana Boyd Barr of Emory University in Georgia explained how heavy or prolonged exposure to organophosphates can lead to a painful death in humans. Once the chemical enters the body, through ingestion, inhalation, or even skin contact, the chemical begins to inhibit cholinesterase, an enzyme necessary in the human nervous system that communicates muscle movement to the brain.
“It’s a painful way to die. You end up suffocating because you are essentially paralyzed.”
Despite such dire consequences, the chemical is widely used in the United States. In its rush to protect its citizens from a virus most people won’t even be exposed to, Dorchester County, South Carolina, not only killed millions of honey bees and wild bees, but officials may have seriously endangered the people they were trying to protect. The time has come, then, for government organizations — and the general public — to formally condemn the use of such toxic pesticides.
[Photo by Photografiero/Getty ThinkStock]