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Chester County Press

Experts, residents continue to address phorid fly problem in Landenberg

11/01/2016 01:06PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

The Avonale Fire Company served on Oct. 25 as a place where frustration, testimony and information met, as scientists, elected officials and local residents gathered to discuss the continuing infestation of the phorid fly in the Harrogate North community in Landenberg. 
For two hours, the conversation served as the latest meeting of the minds in a problem that dates back to 2010, when the fly began infesting more than 100 homes in the development, located on the outskirts of Landenberg. At a February 2015 meeting at the New Garden Township Building, more than 50 residents of the development told township supervisors that they were fed up with "living in a nightmare."
Since that time, Sen. Andy Dinniman has helped spearhead an effort to help eradicate the infestation, which has spread to the adjacent Somerset Lake community as well as dipped over the state line into the Hockessin area. He chaired the meeting, which also included Pa. Deputy Secretary Fred Strathmeyer, Jr. of the Pa. Department of Agriculture; David Beyer, an entomologist with Penn State and one of the nation's leading experts on phorid fly eradication; the New Garden Board of Supervisors and township manager Tony Scheivert.
While experts said that research to erase the phorid fly at mushroom houses and in residential neighborhoods continues, it has not caught up to the nuisance itself, while several agencies are apparently taking no responsibility for the problem.
Dinniman told the audience that after he first heard of the infestation in the development, his office called the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Each department told Dinniman that the eradication of the flies was not their responsibility.
A meeting held at Harrogate this past May between residents and experts served as a floodgate confessional of problems shared by members of the community, many of which were echoed at the Oct. 25 meeting.
Harrogate resident Barbara Runkle said that she and her husband have spent four thousand dollars on pest control products, and regularly spray the exterior of their home with a dishwater product and water as often as four times a day.
"Last Sunday, I was able to open my door for the first time since May," Runkle said. "We live in total darkness. The lights are out and the blinds are drawn. This is not a good quality of life for anyone to live."
The infestation is spreading, she said. Runkle told the panel that she has had conversations with residents in Delaware and Maryland about the phorid fly infestation, and they echo a similar problem.
Desperate times are calling for desperate measures of insect control. Throughout the meeting, residents kept referring to the possible use of Diazinon, a poisonous insecticide that was heavily used during the 1970s and early 1980s for general-purpose gardening use and indoor pest control cockroaches, silverfish, ants, and fleas in residential, non-food buildings. It's off the shelves now; residential uses of Diazinon were outlawed in the U.S. in 2004 by the EPA, but it is still approved for agricultural uses.
Now, without a non-poisonous, organic miracle worker currently on the market for residents to freely use on their properties -- and without the state agencies on board -- finding a solution has come down to research. Through the haze of the fly's infestation, there are potentially some solutions on the horizon, and many of them are coming from Penn State.
Beyer told the audience that he has spent the past four decades -- including the last 13 years at Penn State -- looking into identifying new behavior modifying, non-toxic chemicals that can be used to manipulate the behavior of the phorid flies in order to lower their numbers. He told the audience that he was hopeful that continued research could someday lead to the use of non-toxic chemicals that could be used for mass trapping and the disruption of fly mating cycles.
While completion on Penn State research plays a waiting game, a few Harrogate residents have already begun to attack the problem. One resident said that she has had some success with a non-toxic plug-in device called a FlyWeb trap, available on Amazon.com.
The fly light can be used with any standard AC outlets and utilizes a 9-Watt UV light to attract bugs within a 600 square foot area. Once bugs enter the enclosure they become trapped with the adhesive glueboard, which is easily replaceable.
Another resident said that his insect zapper has the capability to kill "tens of thousands of flies," and recommended that residents place their zapper in their home's attic.  
Several Harrogate residents have created the Phorid Fly Action Committee, in order to encourage residents to contact local authorities about the problem. The group has aligned with Penn State in the accumulation of research in the development, including maps that indicate the most severe trouble spots for the insect.
Dinniman said he is applying for a grant from the Dept. of Agriculture which will be targeted toward further research, which will be matched with additional state money.
"It will not solve the phorid fly problem immediately, but the research has to be done, in order to solve it once and for all," he said.
Dinniman also said that he is also trying to get $40,000 to New Garden township that could be used to assist those who are struggling with the phorid fly problem.
Beyer said that the way to rectify the problem is through pragmatic means, through continued study and analysis. He said that he will take the information shared at the meeting and reach out to lawmakers and environmental agencies in Harrisburg.
"It's real, it's personal and it's about this community, and something has to be done, rather than nothing," Beyer said. "That's why were here tonight, to hear this, to write things down and go back to the drawing board, and if those solutions lead to some type of regulatory control, I assure you that we're going to go down a path that's going to get us to another place than we are today."
"Kicking the can down the road is not the solution," Strathmeyer said. "and we're here to find a solution."
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail rgaw@chestercounty.com.








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