Zika in Puerto Rico: EPA effectively bans anti-mosquito pesticide

Having polluted a Western U.S. river, killed off thousands of mining jobs and punted on the Flint water crisis, EPA kills supply of crucial anti-Zika chemical.

Aedes aegypti mosquito, key carrier of the Zika virus. (Via Wikipedia entry on Aedes aegypti)

WASHINGTON, March 20, 2016 – Examining the recent track record of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), any objective outside observer might radically conclude that this rogue agency’s sole prime directive is to further an anti-jobs, anti-industrial, radical environmentalist agenda.

The EPA has virtually destroyed the U.S. coal industry, jacking up the over all cost of energy for U.S. consumers while killing of tens of thousands of high-paying mining jobs. For close to a year they have real solutions to last summer’s disastrous pollution of a Colorado-New Mexico-Utah river basin—pollution caused by the ineptitude of one of its favored contractors.

More recently, they’ve spent more time and money trying to dodge charges of negligence involving their do-nothing approach to the growing lead pollution crisis afflicting the water supply of Flint, Michigan. And now, it seems, they’ve short-circuited a viable temporary solution to halt the spread of the Zika virus in already-afflicted Puerto Rico—as if that U.S. Commonwealth doesn’t already have enough problems.

Due to a “very inconvenient coincidence,” notes a New York Times piece running Sunday on CNBC’s web site,

“…the Environmental Protection Agency has effectively banned the chemical used [there] to kill juvenile mosquitoes, Audrey Lenhart, a C.D.C. entomologist, noted. The chemical, temephos, has been in use since 1965 and definitely works, she said. But it is not very profitable, so when the agency demanded safety data costing about $3 million to gather, the manufacturers decided instead to quit making it.

“Puerto Rico still has a nine-month supply, Dr. Lenhart said, and the E.P.A. may issue an emergency use permit for more.”

So when might that be? Worse, judging from their current track record, maybe they won’t issue a permit at all.

Our outside observer might be further appalled to learn that at least one other Federal agency is hamstringing attempts to keep the Zika virus—already present in the continental U.S.—from spreading further and achieving epidemic status. It’s an alarming possibility, too, given that this largely mosquito-borne disease is the likely cause of serious birth defects when it afflicts pregnant women in other countries where it’s become established.

But that hasn’t stopped the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) from dragging its feet on approving an inexpensive and viable and proven safe method for radically reducing the ability of Zika’s primary carrier, the Aedes aegypti mosquito, to reproduce, thus dramatically lessening the ability of the Zika virus to spread via that familiar vector.

That’s despite the fact that the FDA has already noted the safety and effectiveness of this method, which involves the introduction of a massive number of effectively sterile males into the mosquito population, thus short circuiting the ability of this prolific insect to breed in great numbers.

According to Reuters,

“U.S. health regulators said a genetically engineered mosquito being used in the fight against Zika will not have a significant impact on the environment, possibly paving the way for the technique to be used in the country.

“The self-limiting strain of the Aedes aegypti mosquito was developed by Oxitec, the U.K.-subsidiary of U.S. synthetic biology company Intrexon Corp [NYSE symbol: XON]. The male mosquitoes are modified so their offspring will die before reaching adulthood and being able to reproduce.

“The FDA agreed with an environmental assessment submitted by Oxitec, saying preliminary findings suggested that the genetically modified mosquitoes will not have a significant impact on the environment.”

The FDA has long had a reputation for taking an unbelievable amount of time approving of anything on its menu, particularly when the need for speed is acute. But in this case, there’s also another issue, which, predictably, involves another example of the eco-paranoia that is gradually strangling this country and its economy.

Reuters notes that “Oxitec is proposing to conduct an investigational trial, designed to evaluate the effectiveness of its mosquitoes, in the Florida Keys region.” It’s an idea that makes sense as the virus has already spread to certain areas in Florida.

“However, the concept of wiping out an entire mosquito species also raises ecological questions, as it runs counter to preserving biodiversity.

“A petition on Change.org by Mila de Mier, a Key West resident, has gathered more than 161,000 supporters, and calls for the FDA to not approve the genetically modified mosquitoes.”

Apparently, area eco-vigilantes have concluded that an apparently easy solution from Oxitec – one of these dreaded, for-profit biotech companies –that will limit the spread of the Zika virus via its main vector and save an untold number of unborn children from being afflicted with a severe and often fatal birth defect should take a back seat to “preserving biodiversity.” That “biodiversity,” we might infer, includes massive populations of one of America’s most-hated, most-feared and arguably most-dangerous insects.

This is another absurd example of the ability of a small number of radical extremists to delay or derail implementation of reasonable solutions to critical problems that would clearly address the common good.

Objections like these are laughable, yet are taken far too seriously by Federal government bureaucrats, many of whom now openly collude with the crackpots who voice them. By now, it’s become clear that the U.S. government, particularly under the Obama Administration, will typically take environmental extremists far more seriously than their usually flimsy arguments warrant.

It will not be surprising, then, if the FDA stretches out its examination of the Oxitic solution—one with which the agency itself finds no fault—indefinitely, even as Zika begins to spread northward and westward. The EPA’s effective banning of temephos can only make matters worse.

To its credit, the FDA has just given emergency approval to “a new three-in-one laboratory test for Zika and a pair of other dangerous viruses… [that] will be distributed soon, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC],” according to the Washington Post. “The test, which could speed the diagnosis of Zika, will be shipped to qualified labs across the country over the next two weeks, the agency said Friday.”

But here again, we run into what seems like unnecessary bureaucratic red tape:

“The CDC said it will distribute the test to facilities in the Laboratory Response Network, a network of domestic and international laboratories that respond to public health emergencies. The test, called the Trioplex Real-time RT-PCR Assay, will not be available in hospitals or other primary care settings.”

Why not? The Post article doesn’t say.

Another more pressing question: How much good is even a reliable disease test when actual solutions to address what’s being tested for are being stalled or delayed indefinitely, apparently so that government bureaucrats and eco-vigilantes alike can virtue-signal by day and sleep soundly at night.

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Terry Ponick
Biographical Note: Dateline Award-winning music and theater critic for The Connection Newspapers and the Reston-Fairfax Times, Terry was the music critic for the Washington Times print edition (1994-2010) and online Communities (2010-2014). Since 2014, he has been the Business and Entertainment Editor for Communities Digital News (CDN). A former stockbroker and a writer and editor with many interests, he served as editor under contract from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and continues to write on science and business topics. He is a graduate of Georgetown University (BA, MA) and the University of South Carolina where he was awarded a Ph.D. in English and American Literature and co-founded one of the earliest Writing Labs in the country. Twitter: @terryp17