Activists slam city’s West Nile spraying

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When Mary Vesely, a chronic asthmatic from College Point took to the podium during last week's meeting of the College Point Civic Taxpayers Association, three activists had already spent a considerable amount of time criticizing the city's use of pesticides to eradicate virus-carrying mosquitoes last summer.

After a city Health Department spokesman summarized plans to prevent another outbreak and opened the floor to questions, the elderly Vesely raised her hand to be recognized. Slowly, she left her seat and shuffled along with her oxygen tank to the podium.

With tears in her eyes, Vesely told the audience of about 150 people her already poor health had been aggravated by the pesticides and she was terrified the city might spray again this year.

It was a dramatic moment at a time when some audience members had grown impatient with the activists' lengthy pesticide presentation and others were simply overwhelmed by the barrage of information.

"We need to absorb more of this and finish this at the next meeting," said one audience member.

Joyce Shepard, a civic activist from Bay Terrace and staunch opponent of the city's pesticide spraying, had been invited by Sabina Cardali, president of the College Point civic, to make the pesticide presentation. College Point was considered the hot zone during last summer's West Nile outbreak, which claimed the lives of four residents of northeast Queens.

"I'm not here to panic, I'm here to educate," Shepard said before presenting evidence which she claimed proved the city was negligent in the manner it sprayed the pesticides.

She was joined by two women - Laurie Evans, an environmental activist from Westchester County, and Tina Williams, who claimed one of the pesticide application firms the city contracted with had poisoned her family and contaminated their Massapequa home while exterminating termites a few years ago.

Despite objections from a few audience members, the majority listened to what three women had to say.

Dr. James Miller, a spokesman for the city Health Department, then informed the audience of the city's plans to monitor mosquitoes, animals and humans for a resurgence of the West Nile virus, but he was unable to directly refute many of the activists' allegations and was not given an equal amount of time to do so.

"It's tough to have a debate without hearing both sides," said an audience member afterward.

Another audience member, Leo Nicholas, noted "there's two sides to every story" and the pesticide application companies should have been represented at the meeting.

During a brief interview, Vesely said she is a diabetic and breast cancer survivor who began suffering from asthma about two years ago.

During its spraying campaign the city had warned asthmatic residents their symptoms could be exacerbated by the pesticides.

She said her doctors did not know whether or not her condition was worsened late last year by exposure to the pesticides the city sprayed, but she said "without a doubt" the chemicals had affected her.

State Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose) said he and other legislators have set a meeting at the library in downtown Flushing on March 31 for city, state and federal health officials to discuss last summer's outbreak and plans to prevent another health emergency this summer.

"We are going to press these people to get all the information and when we do, we will stake out a very firm position and it may very well be 'do not spray,' " Padavan said.

Padavan said during the outbreak his office had calls from both sides of the pesticide issue - residents who wanted their neighborhoods sprayed and others who had been sickened by the chemicals.

Although the pesticide presentation took up the most time, other guest speakers touched upon other topics of interest to the College Point community.

Deputy Inspector James Waters of the 109th Police Precinct said although the area was rated first in the city for car thefts, the numbers of cars being stolen had been halved in the past seven years and the rate was dropping further.

He also warned residents to beware of criminals posing as police officers, plumbers and phone company workers, either seeking solicitations or entry into homes.

U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) and Padavan were also on hand to discuss the city's ongoing reconstruction of the long-closed College Point Sports Complex.

Tons of illegal fill dumped on the site during a botched renovation attempt in the mid-1990s are currently being removed from the property, after which the city will begin building new sports fields.

"It will be done, it is being done, you can go there and watch it being done," said Padavan, who noted new Little League fields should be open by 2001.

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