Millions of S.C. bees die after anti-Zika spraying, beekeepers say

Dorchester County announced its decision to spray for mosquitos last Friday. Local beekeepers who lost millions of bees from the spraying, which occurred on Sunday, say that they were not given enough notice. 

Michael Probst/ AP
A bee is on its way to a sunflower on a field near Frankfurt, Germany, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016.

Millions of bees in South Carolina have become indirect victims in the fight against Zika, after one county decided to fight the virus by an aerial pesticide spray against mosquitos.

Government officials in Dorchester County, located near Charleston, S.C., have been concerned about the spread of the Zika virus after several travel-related cases surfaced in South Carolina recently. Although pesticide sprays are not uncommon, the method – by plane – and weekend timing caught local beekeepers by surprise, with some saying their livelihoods are now at risk. 

"Dorchester County is concerned about the safety of its citizens," the county government wrote in a statement announcing the spraying. "This includes protecting citizens from insect bites from pests such as mosquitoes that carry viruses including West Nile and Zika."

The county also sent notice to more than 20 local news stations two days prior to the spraying, followed by a second alert the day before. Nevertheless, many beekeepers say they were blindsided by the decision. 

Two days notice is not enough, they say, particularly because many beekeepers were not personally notified and only realized what was happening when it was too late.

Frequently, pesticides for insect populations have been sprayed by trucks, as The Washington Post reports.  Naled, the chemical used by Dorchester County, is a common pesticide used for controlling mosquito populations, and is not harmful for humans. It is known to be highly toxic to bees, however, and in the past, beekeepers were warned by phone prior to pesticide spraying.

"I am not aware of any other situations where bees, humans or pets were harmed," Jason Ward, a Dorchester county administrator, told The Post and Courier. "We usually call registered beekeepers prior to spraying in their zone."

Local business owner and farmer Juanita Stanley told the Post that although her livelihood depends on the bees, she's more devastated about what this means for the insects themselves.

More than 2 million of Ms. Stanley's bees were killed, and the remaining bees are living in "contaminated" hives, she said.  

"I don't know where to go from here," Stanley said. "I can't just go out and buy more bees, and right now I'm focused on how do I clean up all this mess? What can be reused and what can't? What steps do I take?"

Dorchester County's decision appears to be motivated by four recent cases of the Zika virus in the county. However, all four cases have been travel-related, rather than mosquito-borne. 

In the future, country officials say, they will directly inform beekeepers of any aerial sprays. Clemson University's Department of Pesticide Regulation is investigating this weekend's spray, WSCS reports. 

Far beyond Dorchester County, however, bees are facing new challenges. Scientists worldwide are attempting to determine the cause of declining bee populations, which can have negative effects on crop growth. Some of the culprits they have identified include colony collapse disorder and pesticide use.

"It's not about the honey. It's about saving the bees," Stanley told the Post. "Because of my mission with my business, this is so much more devastating. I am trying to do the opposite of what just happened. They are in a sanctuary where I can protect them, and now they are destroyed."

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