By Steve Reed
SMITHFIELD — Low-flying airplanes buzzed over Johnston County on Saturday spraying pesticide to rid residents of a mosquito epidemic created by Hurricane Florence. The extermination should take about a week.
The county hired Arkansas-based Vector Disease Control International to spray the insecticide Naled across the county. Company vice president Daniel Markowski said Vector sprayed 6 million gallons last year over Florida, Louisiana and Texas after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
“We’ve never had a bad reaction to it,” said Markowski. “We only spray two-thirds or an ounce per acre. That’s why we don’t see adverse effects. It comes down as a droplet and you can’t find it.”
Markowski said Naled is the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s preferred pesticide.
The extermination begins with setting traps throughout the county, said Markowski.
“We collect mosquitoes and if they’re above the FEMA threshold, then FEMA approves funding the extermination,” said Markowski. “After we’re finished, we do a post-application procedure to prove we’ve gotten rid of them.”
The planes take off with a two-person crew from the Johnston County Airport in Smithfield and spray from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m.
“The pilot is just trying to fly straight,” said Markowski. “The co-pilot monitors the spray system, we have a mechanical crew on the ground and another group that sets the traps.”
“When they spray, our planes fly at an altitude of 300 feet, about 150 mph,” said Markowski. “If it’s raining or too windy, we’ll cancel the flights. In the early morning, if fog sets in, we might end our flights.”
Markowski said his crew has blocked a spray area of 509,000 acres, what he described as “a big chunk of the county.”
The primary extermination target are psorothora mosquitoes.
“They are about the size of a quarter,” said Markowski. “They are drawn by the huge amounts of rain and floodwater generated by a hurricane. After the first night of spraying, we should get rid of about 90 percent of them.”
VDCI has sprayed after every major hurricane and tropical storm since 1998, said Markowski.
Some Johnston County towns have already sprayed using trucks, but Markowski said that’s not the most effective method.
“Planes are more effective than ground spraying,” said Markowski. “ You’re limited by roads and miss a lot of areas, especially out in the country.”
Markowski said unless there’s another hurricane or major flood, the mosquitoes should be gone for at least a year.
“As long as you’re not getting a major weather event, they’re gone,” said Markowski.
Johnston County Manager Rick Hester said the project will cost $945,000.
“We are scheduled to receive $440,000 from the state,” said Hester. “We will apply to FEMA for additional reimbursement for the remaining $505,000 balance.”