By the coming October 1959, the Jersey Shore’s battle against sleeping sickness seemed almost over. The Associated Press reported on day one from Trenton: “No new suspected cases of fatal eastern equine encephalitis have been reported in the past 24 hours, the State Health Department announced today.
“DR. Roscoe P. Kandle, state health commissioner, also said the department had no report of a case in which symptoms became apparent after September 27.”
The Tuckerton Beacon announced the war was now on mosquitoes and everyone should follow the example of Stafford Township.
“Mayor Burnham was the first Ocean County officer to order mosquito mist operations around midnight on Monday, September 21st. Mayor Burnham ordered the spraying immediately after Dr. Robert S. Irvin had informed him that something should be done about the mosquitos. It was the night that Dr. Irvin sent Thomas Redmond, 5, West Creek, to Atlantic City Hospital with suspected encephalitis. The boy is still in critical condition. “
On the same day, the Red Bank Register announced that the coastal area was following Stafford’s lead.
“Thick fog formed over Monmouth County yesterday, man-made, not nature. … It came from the nozzles of insecticide carriers as the workers did everything in their power to destroy mosquitoes and to minimize the possible dangers of the dreaded disease, eastern equine encephalitis. … Officials worked around the clock in many areas, triggered by the death of St. Matthew Logan Jr., a 10-year-old boy from Eatontown, on Tuesday. “
On October 2, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported a running story.
“A meeting of all mayors of Ocean County parishes was called Monday at 8:00 pm at the Ocean County Courthouse, Toms River, said Dr. Allen K. Brouwer, president of the district’s mosquito extermination commission, known.
“The purpose of the session, said Dr Brouwer, is to explore all possible maximum efforts to eradicate adult mosquitoes to a deadly frost … with maximum attention to forest areas, supplemented by aerial spraying with solutions of DDT.”
Future spraying of DDT on the bank was intensified when the Tuckerton Beacon published an article on March 24, 1960.
“The impact of human panic on the eastern encephalitis outbreak last year caused millions of dollars in losses in the vacation areas of South Jersey, according to the State Commissioner for Conservation and Economic Development. … “The panic has subsided,” said Mr. Bontempo. “People gain perspective to a considerable extent. It is our responsibility to help them do this, and it can best be done with the facts. ‘
“Mr. Bontempo informed the 200 representatives of the 17 New Jersey County Mosquito Commissions that sleeping sickness would be treated with an additional $ 400,000 for mosquito control.”
With all eyes on the future, few looked at the history of Ocean County and DDT. Asbury Park Press, March 16, 1945, reported, “The Ocean County Mosquito Extermination Commission requested experimental amounts of the ‘miracle’ insecticide DDT powder for use in the marshes this spring … when it became known that the Army limited amounts will release supplies of the wonder powder. “
In July the paper reported a test.
“The US Navy test of DDT powder to eradicate mosquitoes in half of the Island Beach area in Ocean County has proven successful,” said Dr. Allen K. Brouwer, President of the District Mosquito Control Commission. After three naval aircraft seeding flights from Philadelphia, the results were “wonderful”, according to Thomas C. Roberts, a researcher at Johns Hopkins University who is responsible for experimental work in the area.
“DR. Brouwer said: We are proud that the Marine has selected Ocean County to conduct their first test. … We also believe that no bird life is directly destroyed by the use of DDT in the test.”
But the official government report appeared to be raising some red flags.
“Three days after spraying, mosquitos and green-headed flies were rare, and black flies and sand fleas were gone. … On July 14th, three days after using DDT, no dead birds were found and frogs were apparently unharmed. Crabs, which were abundant on the shore of the bay before spraying, had been pulled out of the sprayed shore water. … There were an estimated 100,000 small dead fish (menhaden, mullet, and killies) along 5 miles of the bay, of which terns and gulls were busy eating. … On July 18, reports were received of the death of many edible crabs that had resurfaced in the sprayed area. and on July 21, 150 dead or dying crabs were found over a distance of 200 meters while those in adjacent unsprayed waters were healthy. “
Thomas Mulhern from the New Jersey Mosquito Control Commission was there.
“It was like drawing a line. You could walk around in the sprayed area and there wasn’t a single mosquito to bite you, but the moment you walked into the unsprayed area they would swarm you over. … However, a few days after the spraying, dead fish began to drift in abundance along the Barnegat Bay shoreline of the Island Beach sector where the DDT had been used. … Apparently the wind carried some of the spray across the water and there is no question that the fish died in large numbers. “
The last recommendation of the Island Beach test was: “Avoid direct application to streams, lakes and coastal bays as possible due to the sensitivity of fish and crabs to DDT. Wherever DDT is used, caution should be exercised before and after viewing mammals, birds, fish, and other wildlife. “
In January 1958, Olga Owens Huckins wrote a letter to a friend that was reprinted in the Boston Herald. Many on the Jersey Shore would end up making the same observations.
“The mosquito control plane flew over our small town last summer. Since we live so close to the swamps, we were treated with several fatal doses when the pilot crossed our place. And we consider spraying active poison over private land a serious airborne intrusion.
“The ‘harmless’ shower bath immediately killed seven of our beautiful songbirds. The next morning we picked up three bodies right outside the door. They were birds that lived near us, trusted us and built their nests in our trees year after year. … The next day a robin suddenly fell from a branch in our forest. … Air injection where it is not needed or desired is inhuman, undemocratic and probably unconstitutional. For those of us who stand helpless on the tortured earth, this is unbearable. “
The friend later wrote a book and said: “In a letter dated January 1958, Olga Owens Huckins told me of her own bitter experience with a lifeless little world and sharply drew my attention to a problem I had long been concerned with. Then I realized I had to write this book. “
The author was Rachel Carson. The 1962 book Silent Spring helped start the modern environmental movement.
Today, as the return of the osprey, once decimated by DDT, is celebrated and people watch chicks grow to maturity with the Barnegat Light livestream camera, few are aware of the test that was conducted just across the bay and warned of the environmental dangers during the onslaught of people to fight an epidemic at all costs.
They say, “Believe in science.” The problem is that science is always changing.
Next week: the end of the world!