Anti-beetle pesticide use starts June 6

The use of pesticide to kill off the invasive and highly destructive Asian longhorned beetle (ALB) will begin the first week of June, as planned. 

Pesticide will start being administered by federal officials on June 6. Treatment should be completed by the week of June 20. This will be the first of three yearly treatments.

The ALB eradication plan involves treating 3,200 trees in a quarter-mile radius of the original infestation site—Faulkner Hospital at 1153 Centre St.—with trunk and soil injections of the pesticide imidacloprid.

That area covers 92 property owners, including the City of Boston, Faulkner Hospital and the Arnold Arboretum along with homeowners.

While the treatment is voluntary, if any infected trees are found on any property, the tree will be removed and destroyed.

“Homeowners can assist the eradication effort by allowing program officials access to their property to evaluate susceptible trees for any signs of ALB infestation and to treat trees that are susceptible to ALB infestation,” said Rhonda Santos, the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service’s (APHIS) public information officer.

Santos told the Gazette that eradication staff will not inject any trees without a signed consent form. If a homeowner is unavailable, staff will leave information that the resident can return. Eradication staff will revisit any unavailable homeowners at a later date to make sure the consent form is signed if the homeowner does not return it.

The ALB is an invasive species that kills hardwood trees by burrowing into them. ALBs were found last summer in six trees at Faulker Hospital in Jamaica Hills. Since then, JP has been under a federal quarantine on moving wood out of the area. No further beetles have been found since and the three-year pesticide application program is a precaution. If more beetles are found, then the use of pesticides will likely be prolonged.

The APHIS team said at an April community meeting that the pesticide would pose a minimal health risk to people and other mammals. A child would need to eat over 50 leaves from a treated tree or drink seven gallons of exposed water in one sitting to feel any effects, they said.

The team also said that ongoing research shows no links between the pesticide and large-scale damage to other insect populations. They acknowledged that imidacloprid does kill individual members of other species.

The pesticide is considered safe when used properly, the team told the community in April. Imidacloprid is frequently used by lawn care companies and golf courses and is available over the counter.

The Arnold Arboretum, the largest affected property owner, has chosen pesticide soil injections in addition to trunk injections on its trees. All of the other 3,200 trees in the selected area would receive trunk injections, as the Gazette previously reported.

Some JP residents have expressed alarm about soil injections. Ground injections allow imidacloprid to spread further into the ecosystem and possibly impact other insect species, such as bees.

Margaret Connors, on behalf of the Neighborhood Pesticide Action Committee (NPAC) started a petition to ask the Arboretum to not use this method. She said she is currently working with the Department of Public Health’s environmental health programs to assess long-term impact on the area.

Worcester County has been infected with the ALB since 2008, which led to extensive damage and removal of a large quantity of the area’s trees. The Worcester regulated area was recently expanded to 98 square miles after three new infected trees were discovered earlier this month.

The ALB is large, ranging from 0.75-1.25 inches long, with very long black and white antennae. The body is glossy black with irregular white spots. They emerge from tree trunks in the Boston area around the first week of July. If a beetle or suspicious-looking tree is found, they should be reported to the Massachusetts Asian Longhorned Beetle Program at 866-702-9938.

Updated version: This version corrects the size of the area subject to pesticide treatment.

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