By Kathy Detwiler
I have lived in the Bluebell Hill section of Mt. Airy for the past 17 years on a little side street that allows me easy access to wandering the Wissahickon daily, and in summer wandering in the creek itself. I consider from time to time changing my life dramatically, i.e., moving somewhere else, but I love this connection to the Wissahickon enough to be leery of what any other location might offer.
On Monday, Aug. 13, I received an email from the Friends of the Wissahickon that there was to be a Park closure that evening for a spraying of the Wissahickon for mosquito control, and that the area bounded by Northwestern Avenue, Henry Avenue, Germantown Avenue and Livezey Lane was to be closed to all people and traffic. That area includes Valley Green Inn, where I am employed but did not work that evening.
I saw no signs posting this planned closure or any other advance notice, even though I walk in the Wissahickon Park daily. Upon arriving at the Inn the next day, I was told by my manager of having received no notifications of the closure, which should have forced closure of the Inn or at least forced closure of the porch of the Inn, and of having seen the spray truck driving along Forbidden Drive, spraying the area, with joggers in front of the truck, bikers driving through the spray to pass the truck, dogs and children and hikers all moving aside to allow the truck to pass them.
The area fogged included the porch of the Inn where families, guests were having dinner at the time of the spraying, and that certainly their food would have been fogged as well as the people and wait staff. How did this happen? My best research indicates that the mosquito spray is to prevent West Nile Disease, and that the program to spray is a collaboration between the Philadelphia Health Department, The USDA, and the Department of Environmental Protection.
I have put in calls to two Philadelphia Health phone numbers, two Department of Environmental Protection Agency phone numbers, all of which were listed as references for questions about this program. So far, no one has responded. I would address three issues with this program if I could reach anyone willing to discuss this with me: the plan, the communication of the plan, and the execution of the plan.
All have serious flaws, including the danger to the people who unknowingly ate a meal sprayed with the mosquito-killing spray, or who jogged through the spray and inhaled it into their lungs as they ran or the chemically sensitive or health-challenged folks who were out for an evening of fresh air only to find the spray on their clothes and skin, hair. I worry about the ramifications of no one in any bureaucracy willing to listen to me about any of it.
I admit that for me the most serious issues involve spraying our wild lands to eliminate the very source of the food that makes our wild lands successful as wild lands, food for the frogs and toads, fish, birds, dragonflies, bats, the myriad creatures that depend upon mosquitoes to survive. Mosquitoes are a vital part of the food chain that sustains us all, and to simply spray away that most basic ingredient of the chain, IN THE WILD, is to disrupt the delicate balance of all of our lives.
Didn’t we learn anything from Rachel Carson and the DDT years? I am unsure at this time how to proceed further, what is the most effective use of my passion and outrage and concern. I have called the Friends of the Wissahickon and discussed this with them long enough to learn that there is no current policy of the Friends on this issue of spraying in the Park, and have offered to help in the discussions to formulate such a policy, to act as advisory should there be a willingness on the part of the agencies to request advice.
I have decided to send this notification out to several groups and through several venues. Should any readers of the Local have a response helpful to me, I would be glad of any advice! I would love to begin a conversation with our society about it, since we seem to have forgotten about the importance of our insects in the food chain of life. People getting sick from West Nile virus will mean little if we are all starving from having permanently messed up our web of life with insecticides and genetic manipulation of our foods.
We could at least think this spraying of the Wissahickon through a little more thoroughly than just letting the spray truck spew its contents over our last remaining wild areas, upsetting the balance of nature in ways we don’t even understand. Thanks for reading! You may reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kathy Detwiler, who currently works at Valley Green Inn, previously worked at Cresheim Cottage Café, Roller’s, Trolley Car Diner, Blackfish in Conshohocken, Mermaid Inn, Tavern on the Hill and Farmers Markets in Mt Airy and Gorgas Park in Roxborough. She is a cook, bartender, server and manager.