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U.S. Air Force Is Spraying 6 Million Acres With Chemicals in Response to Harvey

Amid statewide efforts to clean up the aftermath left by the historic flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey, the Pentagon announced last week that it had dispatched C-130H Sprayers from the Air Force Reserve's 910th Airlift Wing in order to "assist with recovery efforts in eastern Texas." However, these "recovery efforts" have little to do with rebuilding damaged structures or with the resettlement of evacuees. Instead, they are set to spray chemicals in order to help "control pest insect populations," which they allege pose a "health risk to rescue workers and residents of Houston."

The Pentagon has requested that the planes treat more than 6 million acres throughout the Houston area. The Air Force noted that the current effort is "expected to significantly surpass previous [spraying] missions in scope," specifically the spraying campaigns that followed Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Naled's Toxicity Not Confined to Mosquitoes

While the Pentagon has framed its efforts to "assist" as seeking to eliminate a potential human health risk, the particular chemical it is using to control insect populations is likely to do more harm than good. According to the Air Force, the mosquito control protocol involves spraying the "Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved and regulated material, Naled," which the Air Force insists will not be used in amounts large enough to "cause any concern for human health."

However, the insecticide Naled, manufactured and sold by a strategic partner of Monsanto, is currently banned in the European Union due to the "unacceptable risk" it presents to human health.

Naled is a known neurotoxin in animals and humans, as it inhibits acetylcholinesterase—an enzyme essential to nerve function and communication—and has even been known to have caused paralysis. Mounting scientific evidence, including a recent Harvard study, has also pointed to Naled's responsibility for the mass die-off of North American bees. Just one day of Naled spraying in South Carolina killed more than 2.5 million bees last year.

Yet, the most concerning consequence Naled poses for human health is the chemical's ability to cross the placental barrier—meaning that Naled freely crosses from mother to fetus. A study conducted at the University of Oslo found that Naled's breakdown product, dichlorvos, caused a 15 percent decrease in the brain size of newborn guinea pigs when their mothers were exposed to Naled for only three days during pregnancy. Doctors from Puerto Rico have also claimed that Naled harms fetuses.

Studies in the U.S. have also shown that pregnant women exposed to Naled had a 60 percent higher chance of having a child with an autism-spectrum disorder.

This is especially troubling given that the manufacturer of Naled, Sumimoto Chemical Corp., is also the manufacturer of the mosquito larvicide SumiLarv, a chemical now believed to have been the real culprit behind the spike in birth defects in Brazil originally attributed to the Zika virus.

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