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Crowley suggests device to battle West Nile Virus

Would you rather breathe airborne pesticides or risk potentially deadly insect bites?

It is a choice New York City residents have faced since 1999 when the first cases of West Nile Virus in the United States turned up in Queens. Last Thursday, U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights), Queens Parks Commissioner Richard Murphy and Corona Lions President James Lisa introduced a device they hope will enable Queens residents to answer "none of the above."

The Mosquito Magnet, an approximately three-foot tall rolling gadget that looks like a cross between a backyard barbecue and a vacuum cleaner, attracts mosquitoes with a plume of carbon dioxide, then sucks them into a collection bag where they dehydrate and die. Two Mosquito Magnets will be tested in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Crowley said at a news conference at the nearby Hall of Science.

"Growing up, I always considered myself the mosquito magnet," Crowley joked. "I couldn't keep them off me." But the congressman hailed the device, a gift of Big Apple Barbecue and Fireplace Center, with locations in Whitestone and Astoria, as the wave of the future.

"This is the type of technology we need to be looking towards," he said, "to wean us off of the use of chemical agents, to destroy mosquitoes and to stop spread of this horrendous disease."

The machine runs on propane and can keep an acre of land mosquito-free, said Lisa. The propane tank and collection bag must be changed only once every three weeks, he added.

Lisa's organization, the Corona Lions, helped coordinate the donation of two devices by Big Apple Barbecue and Fireplace Co. The technology involved is not new, having been used by the U.S. Coast Guard for 25 years, and the cost of the machine is roughly $1,000.

Lisa said the Lions became interested in the issue because of the organization's work on behalf of children with cancer. Although he admitted there was no scientific proof of a link between pesticides and cancer, there was enough suspicion in the scientific community to cause a number of states and cities to suspend use of pesticides.

He hoped a switch to the Mosquito Magnet would help avoid potential health or ecological problems in the future brought on by the widespread use of pesticides.

But Crowley, who has supported funding in Congress for West Nile Virus research and the creation of a West Nile czar in the Clinton administration, suggested that spraying might be a fact of life for Queens even if the new machines prove successful.

"I think the spraying will continue," he said. "What we're suggesting is that there are other alternative means that should be explored."

Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.

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