A contentious debate over aerial insecticide spraying to knock down mosquitoes carrying Zika virus raged again Wednesday morning in Miami Beach.
Hundreds of residents packed City Hall for about three hours of public comment and testimony from medical professionals and government officials. The discussion was peppered throughout with angry outbursts from the frustrated audience, who ranged from outright Zika skeptics to residents who urged the city to place a moratorium on aerial spraying and explore alternatives.
By the time the testy exchanges died down around noon, the city passed two resolutions to urge Miami-Dade County and Tallahassee to investigate mosquito control methods that don’t include naled — a controversial neurotoxin that has been sprayed over the Beach twice now. The city also asked for the creation of a panel of experts to evaluate alternative mosquito control methods.
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The conversation echoed a public workshop held last week, where residents made it clear they want more options. In some cases, people said they don’t even consider Zika a serious threat to public health because they don’t believe the science that suggests the virus is linked to a higher incidence of severe birth defects.
Wednesday’s meeting was more unruly though, as tensions between opposition to naled and government officials boiled over. At times, the crowd’s jeers overpowered whoever was speaking, and commissioners grew frustrated on the dais. The angst highlighted growing mistrust of government among several residents.
Resident Michael Capponi repeatedly asked for a two-week moratorium on the spraying, which is scheduled to continue early Sunday morning and again the following Sunday. He wants the county, who has jurisdiction to conduct spraying for mosquitoes, to monitor the number of mosquitoes trapped in the Beach to determine if ground efforts and the first two aerial sprays have worked.
“I don’t think that was an unreasonable ask,” he said afterward.
Commissioner Michael Grieco, who opposed the use of naled even before it was scheduled for South Beach, had drafted a resolution instructing the city attorney to file an emergency injunction to stop the spraying. The motion failed.
Earlier in the morning, Grieco summed up his concerns.
“What happens if the mosquito count doesn’t go down? What if it does? What if it shoots back up?” he asked. “When does it stop?”
Alina Hudak, Miami-Dade deputy mayor, told the commission the county will continue to spray. She responded directly to critics in the audience while emphasizing that the decision to spray naled was made after consultation with state agriculture officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I don’t make decisions based on Google searches,” she said.