The Lancet

December 4th, 1999

Sir –

I take issue with your Oct 9 [1999] editorial about the management of the encephalitis crisis in New York City. our leadership, for once unchallenged by the media, failed to address issues of the greatest urgency.

These issues include years of neglect in the area of larvae control in coastal and lake and pond regions. Intervention at this stage is a much less toxic process and yields long-term results. It might have allowed us to avoid the use of massive amounts of the more hazardous organophosphates during the encephalitis crisis. Our city’s leadership also failed to involve local leaders and concerned citizens, who objected to the shortsighted and non-specific intervention so-called plan instituted here. This plan exempted many experienced members from the scientific community from contributing information relevant to the selection of pesticides, developing protocols to determine the specific areas in need of application, selecting those areas in need of repeat application, and the implementation of a method for informing and protecting million of people from excessive and random exposures to the toxins used. You remarked upon the “willingness” of this population to be “exposed” to pesticides. Whereas most New Yorkers and I would agree that spraying was a necessary step, I doubt that any of us would give permission for our persons to be sprayed, no matter how dilute the solution used.

There were times when no notice was given about changes in schedules/locations for application. So-called advance notice often consisted of 2-3 h, (sic) and information only available to those able to reach the mayor’s office of emergency management by phone or who happened to be watching g a particular cable tv channel. I am unaware of any safe level of exposure recorded for children. yet many opportunities for exposure via dermal, respiratory and gastrointestinal routes existed daily for the entire population.

There were no plans implemented to clean playground equipment, close park areas, protect city workers out on the street during and after applications and so on. Pesticide application should be termed a necessary risk and not just one of the many toxins present in the everyday life of a city dweller. The mayor’s oft repeated litany of false assurances about the benign nature of the concentrations used of malathion, resmethrin and sumethrin were not contradicted by the media. Although I applaud the absence of tabloid journalism during this crisis, the public trust in the media to keep us informed was violated.

Barbara R. Rubin

Categories: Lancet, Published

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