Los Alamos Public Schools is addressing a mosquito problem behind Aspen School. Photo by John McHale/ladailypost.com
A bog outside Aspen Elementary School is a breeding ground for mosquitos. Photo by John McHale/ladailypost.com
By BONNIE J. GORDON
Los Alamos Daily Post
Aspen Elementary School and the surrounding neighborhood are a-buzz, but not in a good way. A large drainage area behind the school, meant to manage run-off water from the parking lot, roof and other flat surfaces has become a boggy breeding ground for mosquitoes, with clouds of the pesky insects invading the neighborhood and school grounds.
Residents of the neighborhood say they have been trying to inform the County and the Los Alamos Public Schools about the problem for months. Resident Linda Anderman brought the problem to the attention of the School Board at a meeting in July.
“We need to mitigate this problem,” Anderman said. “Public health is an issue because mosquitoes spread dangerous diseases. It’s not just a nuisance although it is that.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), disease epidemics from viruses spread by mosquitoes are happening more often, including recent dengue outbreaks in many countries worldwide, the Zika epidemic (2015-2017), and the chikungunya epidemic (2013-2014). West Nile Virus is the most common virus spread by mosquitoes in the continental United States. Could the next pandemic be spread by mosquitoes? The CDC reports it’s possible. Not all mosquitoes spread disease, but some species certainly do.
At that July school board meeting, LAPS Interim Superintendent Jennifer Guy told Anderman that a meeting with County officials to discuss the problem was scheduled for the following Monday.
School Board President Melanie Colgan called the problem “a very valid concern. We’ll look into this and get back to you,” she said.
Anderman said that the bog was recently sprayed and the mosquitoes were still a problem. Neighbors have also expressed concerns about pesticides being sprayed in the area. In a phone conversation with the Los Alamos Daily Post, LAPS Director of Operations Tom Castillo said LAPS had tried spreading vegetable oil at the site, but that also failed to deter the insects.
“I feel for the residents,” Castillo said, “but we have to be careful. If we start moving dirt around, we could cause flooding.”
Castillo said County Public Works Director Anne Laurent and her staff were very helpful in figuring out next steps to rid the school grounds of the mosquito problem. The County engineers suggested mosquito dunks to control larvae. A mosquito dunk looks like a small, beige donut, which floats on standing water. As it slowly dissolves, it releases a bacterium, which is toxic to all species of mosquito larvae. Unfortunately, dunks don’t control adult mosquitoes.
“We’ve established a preventative maintenance plan,” Castillo said. “Every month we place 30 dunks in the boggy area. Starting the dunks earlier should help control mosquitoes in upcoming years.”
Laurent said that mosquito problems in other areas have not been reported to the County, but urged residents to contact her department if standing water in their area is a problem.
“At Ashley Pond, the fish do a good job keeping mosquitoes down,” she said.
The County staff also suggested contacting the civil engineers who originally designed the run-off area. They suggested that pipes of the wrong size or other issues might be causing the water to collect in the area.
Castillo said that they are in contact with the civil engineers and will be meeting with them to discuss ameliorating the problem.
“The District takes this problem very seriously,” Guy said. “I’d like to thank the community members who brought this to our attention.”
The civil engineers who built the run-off pond will look at drainage in the whole area, Guy said.
“The County has been very responsive, which has made it easier to find solutions,” she said. “Everyone jumped in and worked together.”