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Homeland Security

Reservists reducing hurricane-born insects

by Tech. Sgt. Shawn David McCowan
910th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

9/29/2005 - DUKE FIELD, Fla. (AFPN) -- Hurricane Katrina did more than claim lives and destroy property. The deadliest storm in U.S. history flooded acres of land with standing water, providing a prime breeding ground for mosquitoes and filth flies.

To counter a mass increase in mosquitoes in the Gulf Coast region, Air Force reservists sprayed more than 1 million acres of New Orleans between Sept. 12 and Sept. 20. As soon as their mission following Hurricane Katrina is completed, they will shift their focus to the east Texas and west Louisiana areas affected by Hurricane Rita.

"The bayou area around New Orleans is perfect for mosquitoes to breed because they love standing water," said Lt. Col. Steve Olsen, chief of aerial spray for Air Force Reserve Command's 910th Airlift Wing from Youngstown Air Reserve Station, Ohio. "Environmental tests have shown the mosquito population has increased 800 percent since before the hurricane."

The mosquitoes are more than just pests. They are capable of transmitting diseases such as malaria, West Nile virus and different types of encephalitis. If the insects are not controlled, the probability of people contracting these diseases greatly increases, officials said.

To counter their effect, the reservists use Dibrom, a chemical sprayed from their modified C-130 Hercules. The chemical application is harmless to humans, but teams are still careful to keep the public notified.

"Everyone's safety is the most important thing. It's why we're here," said Lt. Col. Marty Davis, commander of the two-aircraft mission. "There are a lot of people on the ground who need to approve our flights, and a lot more people doing their jobs on the ground who need to be advised that we're here."

Some of the areas that breed the targeted insects are huge. Louisiana's Washington Parrish has more than 400,000 acres. Insect "landing counts" help entomologists measure the effectiveness of spraying. On Grande Isle, the team reported landing counts of seven per minute before the spray and zero afterward.

Since Sept. 12, aircrews flew nearly every day until Hurricane Rita put a temporary stop to flying operations. The team's 50 reservists and two aircraft continued their flights Sept. 26 and are scheduled to support spray operations in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas until no longer needed.

"The situation won't improve until something controls the breeding process," said Colonel Olsen. "And all of this flooding has made the mosquito problem much worse."

The aircraft spray at about 150 feet above the ground in early evening when mosquito and filth fly activity is most active.

"These droplets are so small they stick to the hairs on mosquitoes' legs," said the colonel. "The volume used is only a half-ounce per acre. It's like pouring a half of a shot glass over a whole football field. It won't hurt anyone on the ground."

Except for emergencies, the Air Force Reserve team only sprays on federal land. Besides Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the reservists have flown missions after Hurricanes Floyd, Andrew, Ivan and others. (Courtesy of AFRC News Service)

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