The mosquitoes in your yard have gotten far too bold, availing themselves of the blood-meal buffet that is your family and backyard barbecue guests. You've tried to be nice about it, attempting to thwart their complex chemical sensors with citronella candles and lemon eucalyptus body sprays, but the citrus camo isn't doing the job. Now, even with your reservations about chemical pesticides, you're ready to bring in the big guns. Two local companies claim to have a safe, environmentally friendly product with the bug-killing power you desire. Tree-huggers, start your body counts.
Imagine ridding your yard of mosquitoes as simply as you water the lawn. The insecticide systems offered by Nosquito and Buzz-Offcan No Fly Zone be far behind?operate much like an irrigation system. They spray an organic compound derived from crushed chrysanthemums through nozzles placed along your fence or the eaves of your house, or hidden among your landscaping. Activated by a digital timer, the tank can be programmed to deliver a fine mist at dawn and at dusk or whenever your mosquitoes are most active. (Thirty seconds is average, but the duration can be altered.) The manufacturer doesn't recommend direct contact with the insecticide spray, but you can be in your yard as soon as the cycle is complete. Should you wish to be outside during the preset spraying time, go manual and activate the system by remote control. This sprinkler system promises to satisfy your thirst for mosquito blood. A little payback would be nice, wouldn't it?
Nosquito and Buzz-Off are both offshoots of established local concerns, the former a landscape company, the latter a home builder. Despite being in the bug-killing game only since early last year, they already have dozens of customers who believe in their product. "We're very satisfied with the system," says John Clay, who had his installed last year. "I can tell an appreciable difference in mosquitoes inside the protected zone and outside." Linda Brooks, also starting her second mosquito-free summer, says, "It's helped a lot with the mosquitoes, but we've had fewer spiders and other bugs, too."
Before you get too enamored of the idea, though, let's check the fine print.
First, the cost. Both companies offer base systems for around $2,000 and claim that average installations run between $3,000 and $4,000. But "Ours was almost three times that," Brooks says of the unit that protects her Hill Place lot. Other buyers had installations costing as much as $12,000, not to mention the $600-$900 maintenance cost customers will be adding to their annual skeeter-control budgets.
Some prospective buyers may want to further examine the eco-friendly claims of the manufacturers. Pyrethrin (not to be confused with its synthetic counterpart Permethrin) is the chrysanthemum-based insecticide, which has been trusted by horse farms for more than 30 years. The EPA considers it safe enough to be sprayed in and around grain storage facilities. "It breaks down quickly in sunlight and water and is highly diluted in the final solution," says Patrick McKennon, owner of Nosquito. But Pyrethrin isn't the only active ingredient. Piperonyl butoxide, or PBO, is added to the mixture to increase the effectiveness of Pyrethrin; while still approved by the EPA, it has some detractors.
In a letter last month to the Metro Board of Health about spraying programs involving the pesticide Anvil 2+2, which also contains PBO, Vanderbilt molecular biology Professor Wallace LeStourgeon presented the opposing argumentan anti-buzz-kill, if you will. "[P]iperonyl butoxide has been shown to induce DNA damage in several different assays for genotoxicity and also to function as an endocrine disruptor," his letter stated. In a subsequent dispatch, LeStourgeon elaborated that increases in prostate and breast cancer correlate with "the ever-increasing number and type of endocrine disruptors and mutagens in the environment." Translation: this stuff isn't good for you.
Fellow Vandy prof Laurence Zwiebel, who received a $2 million grant from the World Health Organization for his research in mosquito attractants and repellants, also has concerns. "I'm very leery of any insecticides being used so close to a domicile," he says. These men's research and opinions certainly aren't inconsequential, but they haven't prevented the Centers for Disease Control from advocating spraying programs using harsher synthetic pesticides throughout the country in an effort to keep West Nile virus at bay.
Other non-human environmental impact is less in doubt. The insecticide mixture is toxic to fish and slightly toxic to birds, so birdbaths and natural water features should be well clear of the spray. "We have pretty good control of the spray with our nozzles, but I still won't put them within 15 feet of a koi pond," says Bret Moore, part owner of Buzz-Off.
And while you'll likely be happy to have fewer ticks, chiggers and yellow jackets roaming the grounds, since the misting system is indiscriminate in the more than 200 insects it kills, you may have to do without summer stand-bys such as ladybugs and lightning bugs. Then again, some owners say they wouldn't mind targeting a few more species. Linda Brooks hoped the system would reduce her ant population, and local landscape architect Mike Kaiser says, "My only complaint is it doesn't get rid of carpenter bees."
This is the closest thing to negative feedback I received from any of the customers I interviewed. Ask someone who's bought a $500 propane mosquito trap if they're satisfied with their purchase, and the response will likely be negative, maybe even laced with profanity. But homeowners with faith in EPA guidelines and a few extra grand in the bank may very well end up happy with Nosquito and Buzz-Off.
For those still in search of alternatives to another itchy summer, Zweibel offers this advice: "Mosquitoes are not strong fliers, and their chemical sensors are easily disrupted, so I put a couple of box fans on the porch, and that works fine."
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