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The Collier Mosquito Control District sprayed pesticide near shorelines without following rules for counting mosquito populations and did not follow other proper protocols, according to a Florida Department of Agriculture investigation.

The department began an investigation into the district after it received in November an anonymous letter stating the district did not keep accurate logs of who was handling the pesticides and did not meet state-mandated thresholds before spraying along the coast.

Investigators reviewed all of the district's records from June 2016 through September 2016 and June 2017 through September 2017. They issued a formal warning to the district last month.

District spokeswoman Robin King said the district already had addressed the violations before the department issued its warning. Agriculture Department spokesman Aaron Keller confirmed that. The agency plans to recheck the district's compliance at an unspecified date. 

“None of these procedures that the department cited us for has ever put the public in any kind of jeopardy," King said.

Document: Department of Agriculture warning letter

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The warning letter cites three violations:

  • Improper record-keeping.
  • Using a too-high dose of pesticide in an April 2017 spraying flight.
  • Not having a separate mosquito population threshold for spraying along beaches and bay shores.

Florida law states aircraft applications of mosquito pesticides within 1,500 feet of beaches and bay shores is justified only when there is a three-fold increase in the mosquito population over a baseline population.

"It’s not as if someone reports that they have mosquitoes and we run out and do a mission,” King said. “Certain numbers must be met.”

The state requires mosquito control districts to calculate separate baselines near beaches and bay shores. But the Collier district for years has used only one baseline for the entire district, said Patrick Linn, executive director of the district.

When the district calculated a separate coastal baseline, it ended up the same as the districtwide baseline and did not change the district's coastal spraying operations, Linn said.

 

The district also updated its mission forms. Previously, the district's forms had a place for the pilot's name but not the names of the employees who loaded the pesticide onto the aircraft, which is required by state law. The forms now have a place for that, King said.

To address the pesticide overdose incident, which Linn said amounted to less than a fraction of an ounce per acre, the district has built in a margin of error in its dosage calculations, he said.

November's anonymous letter wasn't the first the department received. In October, it received a letter from an employee who said faulty and broken equipment might have caused pesticide leaks, potentially damaging the aircraft, livestock and the environment.

The employee's letter detailed several spills and breaks in protocol while pilots sprayed the pesticide Dibrom dating to August 2016.

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The letter states that in August 2016 a plastic cap to a pressure regulator failed, causing an unknown amount of Dibrom to leak into the airstream during a spraying mission.

All six plastic caps that the district had been using should have been replaced immediately with metal caps, the employee wrote.

The spill wasn't reported to the Florida Department of Agriculture or the Environmental Protection Agency, according to the complaint.

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The employee also said there was another leak during a spraying mission after a hose on a plane burst in July 2017. The letter lists four cases where the employee said pilots either double-sprayed areas, over-sprayed or sprayed pesticide outside the district.

The Department of Agriculture investigators did not verify those claims, but the letter prompted the district to re-evaluate its procedures.

“These allegations brought a lot of things to light," King said. "We went back and said, ‘Wow, there may be some ways we can do things better internally.’

"So we looked at our forms and procedures and made some changes."

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