Aimed at Zika Virus Mosquitoes, Spray Kills Millions of South Carolina Honeybees

Aimed at Zika Virus Mosquitoes, Spray Kills Millions of South Carolina Honeybees

The Monday morning scene at Juanita Stanley’s apiary in Summerville, S.C., was ghastly and stunningly quiet: Everywhere one looked were clumps of honeybees, dead after a dousing on Sunday with the potent pesticide with which the local authorities had intended to kill mosquitoes.


“There was no need for a bee suit Monday morning to go down there, because there was no activity. It was silent,” Ms. Stanley said on Thursday. “Honestly, I just fell to the ground. I was crying, and I couldn’t quit crying, and I was throwing up.”

For Ms. Stanley and her business, the death toll easily exceeds two million bees, and Dorchester County officials are still tabulating how many more might have been killed when a day of aerial spraying, scheduled to combat mosquitoes that could be carrying viruses like Zika, went awry. The apparently inadvertent extermination, the county administrator said, happened after a county employee failed to notify Ms. Stanley’s business, which the administrator said should have been alerted about the spraying strategy. Some hobbyists were also caught by surprise.

“We’ve learned that the beekeeping community in Dorchester County, and in that area in particular, is larger than we were aware of,” Jason L. Ward, the county administrator, said in an interview. “Our idea is to balance working with them with the issue of public safety.”

Concerned about the spread of the Zika virus across the South, local officials on Sunday targeted a 15-square mile area of the county, which is near Charleston, with naled. The pesticide, which has been in use in the United States for more than 50 years, is a common tool for mosquito control, but federal officials have said the chemical can be harmful to honeybees while also posing brief risks to aquatic invertebrates and terrestrial wildlife.

Officials in Dorchester County, where four travel-related cases of Zika have been reported, sometimes spray for mosquitoes from the roads, but Mr. Ward said he believed that Sunday’s aerial effort was the first of its kind for the county. He acknowledged that a county worker had not followed the local government’s standard procedure of notifying registered beekeepers about the deployment of pesticides.

“He made a mistake in terms of going down his list, and failed to call,” said Mr. Ward, who said the county, through its insurance policy, would try to reimburse Ms. Stanley’s business. He said insurance adjusters would need to determine the value of the lost honeybees, but Ms. Stanley suggested that figure would be “a vast amount.”

“This is much more than just how much those little dead bees are worth,” Ms. Stanley said. “My entire business is dead, and it’s not like I can just go out shopping and buy some more bees and get right back on track.”

The county had tried to publicize its plans through social media and the local press, Mr. Ward noted, but Ms. Stanley said that officials had long notified her about scheduled sprayings delivered by truck. This time, she knew nothing about what had happened until a firefighter, who is also a beekeeper, showed up at her door on Monday.

“This is going to sound harsh, but I think for me, this one word is very fitting, and it’s ignorance,” she said. “We, as humans, are not doing the research and finding out the facts before we make decisions.”

The employee in question, who did not respond to a message on Thursday, has apologized, Ms. Stanley said.

“I’m devastated, I’m heartbroken, I’m distraught,” Ms. Stanley added. “I have a lot of emotions and thoughts right now, and none of them are very positive.”

The county has not scheduled any additional aerial sprayings of naled, but some experts have questioned the county’s initial strategy, which included spraying during the day, when honeybees are more active.

Dr. Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a bee researcher at the University of Maryland, said the deaths of the bees in South Carolina were unnecessary, and that there were ways to guard against mosquitoes without simultaneously killing valuable pollinators.

“I think this shows how easy it is to forget best practices when faced with emerging issues — and killing bees is probably not the biggest impact,” he said. “If you’re killing honeybees, you’re killing a lot of other non-honeybee pollinators, too, and those populations could take a long time to recover.”

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