Running Behind the Fogging Machine

Mosquito control then and now

By Donna Campbell Smith

Running Behind the Fogging Machine

Summertime was carefree when I was a child growing up in the 1950s in Washington County. It was also when mosquitoes were on attack with their itchy, annoying bites. Back then, I wasn’t aware of the diseases those tiny black, blood-sucking bugs could carry, just that I hated them. Oily 6–12 repellent (which was discontinued in 1991 due to evidence of birth defects in animals) helped some.

Towns controlled mosquitoes by spraying a fog pumped from the back of a truck in the evenings. Playing outdoors, we could hear the truck as it slowly worked its way through the streets long before it reached our block. We watched for the plume of fog that chugged out from the back of the truck. The cloud of insecticide was so thick that as it passed our houses we couldn’t even see across the street. Children ran behind the truck, playing in the cover of fog, until it turned the corner and proceeded down the next street.

The fogging machine pumped clouds of DDT-laden fog as it was driven up and down the streets in most southern towns. Not until the 1970s did laws restrict the use of DDT. After the ban, some communities sprayed with petroleum products, which proved just as unhealthy and also presented a fire hazard in some instances.

Fogging today

Many towns and counties still fog to kill adult mosquitoes. Coastal counties sometimes resort to aerial spraying after hurricanes leave behind standing water, an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes. Insecticides containing natural pyrethrins derived from chrysanthemum flowers or synthetic pyrethroids are now used to “fog” mosquitoes. While these chemicals do not harm humans and pets, they are toxic to fish and other insects, such as honeybees. You should not go out during the fogging, and it is wise to close windows and doors until the mist dissipates, especially if you have allergies or other respiratory problems. The argument arises as to whether the risk of deadly diseases that can be transmitted by mosquitoes, like malaria and West Nile, outweighs the risk of using insecticides to control them.

Repelling mosquitoes yourself

There are many things we as individuals can do to control mosquitoes. Your first line of defense is to make sure you are not providing them with a friendly environment. Before you resort to chemical warfare, take a good look around. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in water, and the eggs hatch into larvae that develop into more adults. Stop that cycle by removing anything outside that collects water. Change pet bowls daily, empty the birdbath daily, or use a product called “mosquito dunks” (natural insecticide pellets that dissolve in water and kill larvae). Get rid of old tires, tarps, wading pools, cups, bottles or anything else that may trap water. Make sure ditches are draining. Fill in any low areas where water stands.

Encourage birds, bats and insects that prey on mosquitoes to live in your yard. There are even plants that repel mosquitoes, including herbs like rosemary, basil, garlic, lemongrass and catnip. Plant these near your patio to help make your time outside more pleasant. There are a number of repellents you can apply to your clothes. Wear long sleeves and long pants while working outside. To keep mosquitoes out of your house, keep your window and door screens in good repair. Using chemical sprays should be a last resort, and when you do be sure to follow instructions carefully.

About the Author

Donna Campbell Smith is a Carolina Country contributing writer who lives in Franklin County.
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