Poor planning and execution on the part of Dorchester County, S.C., officials eager to combat the spread of Zika virus resulted in the mass killing of millions of honeybees, leaving bee farms and backyard apiaries lifeless across several square miles.
County officials concerned about reports of 40 travel-related cases of Zika infection in South Carolina, including four within Dorchester County, chose to blanket 15 square miles with the bee-toxic pesticide Naled Aug. 28. While the county is used to spraying for mosquitoes on the ground, this was the first time they have dumped the pesticide from an airplane.
By Monday morning, millions of bees lie dead all over the county.
“There was no need for a bee suit Monday morning to go down there because there was no activity. It was silent,” Juanita Stanley, whose Flowertown Bee Farm was the worst hit in the spraying, told The New York Times. “Honestly, I just fell to the ground. I was crying, and I couldn’t quit crying, and I was throwing up.”
Ms. Stanley, who estimated that the county’s aerial extermination efforts killed 2.5 million of her bees, said that nobody contacted her about the planned spraying.
“Nobody called me about the aerial spraying; nobody told me at all,” Ms. Stanly told CNN. “[I] would have been screaming and pleading on their doorstep if they had.”
“Do it at night when bees are done foraging, I would have told them. But they sprayed at 8 a.m. Sunday, and all of my bees were out, doing their work by then.”
The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) webpage for Naled lists its toxic effects on bee colonies as well as aquatic and terrestrial wildlife. Because the chemical, which is primarily used for mosquito control, is immediately toxic to bees, the EPA warns that it should only be sprayed between dusk and dawn, when bees are not out foraging and pollinating.
Dorchester County officials, however, said they followed the manufacturer’s instructions, which recommended applications no earlier than two hours after sunrise.
County officials told the Huffington Post that the experience has been a learning one for them.
“We’ve learned that the beekeeping community in Dorchester County, and in that area in particular, is larger than we were aware of,” County Commissioner Jason Ward told the Huffington Post.
Other area beekeeper hobbyists said the aerial spraying resulted in “mass killings” and “massacres” for their colonies as well.
“My wife called a short time after the flyover and said, ‘We have a mass killing,’” Andrew Macke, who had two hives, told Charleston’s The Post and Courier. “We have thousands and thousands of bees dead all around our pool deck and our driveway, just everywhere.”
Dr. Dennis vanEngelsdorp, a bee researcher at the University of Maryland, said Dorchester County’s mass extermination of honeybees was uncalled for because there are ways to protect them from the harmful effects of pesticides targeting mosquitos.
“I think this shows how easy it is to forget best practices when faced with emerging issues — and killing bees is probably not the biggest impact,” he said. “If you’re killing honeybees, you’re killing a lot of other non-honeybee pollinators, too, and those populations could take a long time to recover.”