University seeks permit to use new mosquito pesticide in AS
The University of Kentucky’s Department of Entomology has requested of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency an experimental use permit (EUP) for “the microbial Wolbachia pipientis, an intracellular bacterial pesticide of insects/mosquitoes” project, which will be used in American Samoa.
Last week, when the public notice about the EUP was posted on the federal register, Samoa News sent e-mail questions to university personnel involved in this project and the response was received yesterday from the university’s Dr. Chike Anyaegbunam, professor, School of Journalism and Telecommunications at the College of Communications and Information Studies.
Anyaegbunam says the response to Samoa News questions includes information from the project’s comments on the EUP application filed with the USEPA.
Asked about the project’s purpose, Anyaegbunam said the purpose is to “provide a new tool to American Samoa and other Pacific Island nations: a tool against Aedes polynesiensis, which is an important biting mosquito and disease vector.”
“Currently, there are no effective methods to control this mosquito, and this mosquito transmits disease agents responsible for lymphatic filariasis and dengue,” the professor states.
In brief, “the project would be to release many male Aedes polynesiensis mosquitoes, which carry a bacterium that kill their offspring,” the university explained. “If enough of the mosquito offspring do not hatch, this population will decline, providing a way to reduce and eliminate Aedes polynesiensis.”
“Both the mosquito and bacterium are in American Samoa already, so there would be no introduction of foreign organisms. And importantly, male mosquitoes do not bite or transmit disease,” it says.
The university further explained, that Wolbachia, the bacterium being used in this project, is already in 65% of all insects and is natural as ants, beetles, and honeybees, which naturally contain it.
“It is not genetically engineered like soybeans and corn, so the new bacterial pesticide may be compared to organic foods that are natural too,” it says.
If the permit is approved by USEPA, when does the university plan to launch this project? Samoa News asked.
“Approval by the EPA is one of multiple steps. Since 2010, we have been communicating with local experts, administrators and regulators in American Samoa. We have also been talking with the media and community members. We have been receiving good questions,” said Anyaegbunam
With EPA approval of the EUP application “we look to the local American Samoa community, including leaders and regulators, for the ‘go ahead’ to proceed,” according to the professor.
Asked what areas of American Samoa are targeted by this project, Anyaegbunam replied: “We have worked with several villages in American Samoa, including Aunu’u, Fagamalo, Leone, Onenoa and Tafuna. At the moment, we are awaiting instructions from local leaders and regulators. They will tell us whether to proceed and where to begin the mosquito control work.”
When questioned as to what’s involved in this project, the university said, “A simple description is: we will use mosquito traps to measure the number of mosquitoes at different locations. At one or more sites, we will release project males. Using the traps, we will look to see whether the mosquito population goes down or disappears at the release site(s). If it works, we would ask the people of American Samoa whether to continue and expand this work.”
Samoa News asked about the health impact this project will have on the people of American Samoa. The university spokesman replied, that “with success, the project would provide a way to control an important disease-carrying mosquito.”
“Diseases like lymphatic filariasis and dengue can only move from person to person through mosquitoes. So the ability to control the mosquito allows control of these diseases,” it explained.
“It can also mean less need for chemical pesticides against this mosquito, which is good for the health of animals, people and the environment.”
Anyaegbunam explained that the university is working with local agencies, including the Governor’s Office, the local EPA, Dept. of Agriculture; Health Department; Marine & Wildlife Resources; Samoan Affairs; Parks & Recreation and others.
“We are always happy to talk with people about the project,” said Anyaegbunam, who noted that the university’s Dr. Chris Stone and Dr. Holly Tuten are on the ground in American Samoa.
“There are always questions and concerns when something new is tried. If anyone has additional questions, we would like to hear from you,” said Anyaegbunam and encouraged people to visit the university’s website to learn more about this project.
Meanwhile, the USEPA is accepting comments on the EUP application on or before June 7 this year. To submit comments log on to the federal eRulemaking portal at www.regulations.gov and search docket identification “EPA–HQ–OPP–2012–0181”. Then enter comments on the comment section.