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The Air Force is Fighting Mosquitos in Texas After Hurricane Harvey

And they're using a controversial insecticide.

The U.S. Air Force has launched a series of aerial attacks against mosquitos swarming the state of Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Standing water in Houston’s flooded homes are prime breeding grounds for mosquitoes, which carry dangerous diseases such as West Nile and Zika. Now, to get ahead of potential outbreaks, the Texas Department of State Health Services will be spraying insecticide from C-130 cargo planes over the course of the next two weeks.

“When you have a hurricane of a magnitude like this, we would like them to spray the whole county,” Mustapha Debboun, director of the Mosquito and Vector Control division of Harris County Public Health, told Reuters. “Everyone was affected.”

Since the start of 2016, Texas officials have reported 342 cases of Zika virus and 441 cases of West Nile virus. Although DSHS spokesman Chris Van Deusen told Reuters that the mosquitos that appear after floods do not generally carry diseases, he says the state can’t be too careful. Besides, even “healthy” mosquito swarms could slow down recovery efforts. The cargo planes have already treated 1.85 million acres, and plan to spray an additional 4 million acres.

infected mosquitoes

Naled, the insecticide that Texas will be dropping from the C-130s is somewhat controversial. Small, poorly controlled studies have linked high levels of exposure to birth defects, including fine motor skill problems and ADHD. While the European Union banned Naled in 2012, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maintains that it is safe for humans.

EPA has a point. Even one authors of an anti-Naled study that confirmed Texas’ spraying is safe. “Likely the small amount sprayed won’t pose significant risk,” Dana Barr, author of one study that suggested Naled harms Mexican-American children living on California farms, told Mother Jones. In other words—the only concerned party should be the mosquitos.