Physicians group warns Winnipeg against malathion

A physicians group has urged the City of Winnipeg to stop spraying adult mosquitoes with the controversial insecticide malathion.

A physicians group is urging the City of Winnipeg to stop spraying adult mosquitoes with the controversial insecticide malathion.

Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment, or CAPE, issued a statement on Monday calling for an outright ban on malathion, saying the chemical has been linked to kidney and lung damage and childhood leukemia.

The group, which represents several hundred doctors from across the country, called on the city to use more biologically friendly methods to control mosquitoes.

In mid-July, the province declared a health emergency and ordered city-wide fogging after it discovered rising numbers of mosquitoes infected with the West Nile virus. It has also ordered malathion fogging in several rural communities for the same reason.

CAPE's executive director, Gideon Forman, said the physicians understand that adult mosquitoes can pose a risk of West Nile virus.

"We realize that there is a danger with West Nile and we don't want to minimize that for a second," Forman said. "But what we're saying, what the doctors are saying, is a more reasonable response than fogging would be an aggressive campaign to attack mosquito larvae using some of the safer methods."

Manitoba Health said the research that CAPE is using to make its case is out of date.

Other physicians groups, such as the Manitoba College of Family Physicians, support a policy of minimal pesticide exposure, but not an outright ban.

The issue of malathion fogging has sparked fierce debates and public protests in Winnipeg, which is one of the only large communities in Canada that uses the chemical for nuisance mosquitoes and not just when the virus looms.

Opponents of malathion's use say the nerve toxin can weaken the immune system and cause a variety of health problems including cancer and birth defects. But a federal evaluation in 2003 declared that "large-scale applications of malathion in residential areas for control of adult mosquitoes do not pose an unacceptable risk" if done carefully at low concentrations.