Storm Drains Focus Of Attack on W. Nile Virus By MICHAEL O. ALLEN and LISA L. COLANGELO, Daily News Staff Writers

May 16, 2001

The city stepped up its war against the West Nile virus yesterday, targeting storm drains where mosquitoes breed.

Thirty teams of workers fanned out across the five boroughs and dropped larvicide pellets into 8,000 storm drains.

By the end of the month, about 145,000 storm drains will have been treated with larvicide. The teams are marking the treated drains with white enamel spray paint as they go.

Larviciding targets mosquito larva and is a crucial first step in preventing the spread of West Nile virus. The city already has done small scale larviciding in ponds.

Be afraid, skeeters — be very afraid!

“It’s too early in the season to know yet how vigorous the virus is going to be in our area,” said Sandra Mullin, assistant commissioner at the city Health Department. “But we’re doing all that we can, like we did last year, to try to minimize the breeding of mosquitoes.”

The virus, which claimed seven lives in 1999 and two last year, is transmitted to people by mosquitoes. The virus has not yet been detected in the city this year. Five infected birds were found in New Jersey this month.

Crews from the Housing Authority — along with the city’s Environmental Protection, Parks, Sanitation and Health departments — are doing the larviciding work.

The one-year contract was apparently not lucrative enough to draw in bidders earlier this month, including Clarke Mosquito Management, which handled the city’s $4.6 million mosquito control contract last year.

Today the Health Department will find out if anyone bid on contracts to handle both larviciding and adulticiding — the use of pesticides to kill adult mosquitoes.

Scientists and environmentalists say it is a more effective way to control mosquitoes than spraying pesticides.

“If you do larviciding early on, you’ll be less likely to need adulticides later on,” said Dr. Stephen Ostroff of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “It makes no difference to me whether it’s done by the city or done by a private contractor, as long as it is done correctly.”

Clarke was the only company to bid on the city’s original three-year, multimillion mosquito control contract last month.

But the Health Department rebid the contract after Clarke was slapped with a six-figure fine by state environmental officials for using untrained and unsupervised workers to spray pesticides in the city last summer.