With a breathing mask, knee high boots and a backpack fan, Harold Grier sets out for battle in yards of Baton Rouge as part of a never-ending war against a small, but mighty, pest – the mosquito.

Grier’s fogger, a piece of equipment that looks like a leaf blower, releases a cloud of Fyfanon around the property. The insecticide, which dissipates quickly in the atmosphere to prevent harm to humans, released dozens of flying leeches in search of their next meal on Friday morning.

Grier then turns his attention to the larvae — treating pots, tires and other containers filled with standing water that make perfect homes for young mosquitoes — suffocating them before they can sprout wings and fly.

“I was interested in science and really wanted to be a public servant,” said Grier, an inspector for East Baton Rouge Parish’s Mosquito Control and Rodent Control. “When I do my job, it’s a satisfying job, it’s a job I can feel good about because I’m helping people improve their quality of life.”

The home visits made by Field Supervisor Marcus Goss’ team of just over a dozen inspectors are just one small part of MARC’s operations across East Baton Rouge Parish.

The agency sprays neighborhoods and septic ditches with red vans and treats patches of woodland and fields by plane. His employees conduct research from MARC’s headquarters along Veterans Memorial Boulevard near the airport.

On his own, Goss even pilots a state-of-the-art drone that can access hard-to-reach areas for treatment.

“It’s a health factor, as well as getting into your yard and enjoying the outdoors. You want to be able to enjoy your property … and you can’t do that if mosquitoes are always bugging you,” said Goss, a 49-year-old who served in the Navy and rose through the ranks to become an inspector. of 12 years.

The agency funds its operations using property taxes that brought in a little more than $8 million in 2021, according to a city-parish audit. Most of that is made up of a 1.23-mill, 10-year tax that will go before voters in the parish for renewal on Nov. 8.

The 1.23 mill rate would cost a property owner $12.30 for land assessed at $10,000 in value, a cost assistant director Randy Vaeth compared to buying two bottles of insect repellent annually.

Voters have consistently approved taxes to fund mosquito and rodent control in the parish since the public agency was created in 1979.

“Louisiana is last on almost everything, but mosquito programs here are some of the best in the world,” Vaeth said. “In Baton Rouge we are also up there, and we feel very good about that. The way you create excellence is you hire the right people and fund the program.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, West Nile Virus has been confirmed to have killed six people across the US in 2022, including two people in Louisiana. Three of MARC’s traps spread across the parish caught mosquitoes that were confirmed to be carrying the virus on Friday, Vaeth said.

Other mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika and dengue are not currently present in Louisiana, but the climate is ideal for the diseases to spread if they are introduced, Vaeth said.

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The agency uses its taxpayer dollars to fund a plethora of methods and research to effectively control mosquitoes in the parish.

The red trucks often seen through neighborhoods in the evenings spray a chemical that kills adult mosquitoes, and they are often targeted in areas where the agency receives a high number of calls or where West Nile virus is found in nearby traps , Vaeth said. Specialized trucks treat septic tanks, which are ideal breeding grounds for mosquito larvae, with larvicide, Vaeth said.

Residents can also request an inspector like Grier to come and spray their property, a service offered at no additional cost to the taxpayer. The same inspectors even recently sprayed the entire Tiger Stadium before the football season.

One of the most important parts of MARC’s work is public education, explaining to residents the importance of simply dumping standing water from containers into their yard to prevent mosquitoes from moving in, Goss said.

A drone flies patterns over hard-to-reach areas, such as woodlands and flooded fields, to drop larvicide from the sky after rainstorms. The agency also owns two aircraft that treat dozens of acres of land from the air, and a $4.5 million helicopter is in the process of being purchased to enable more targeted, large-scale treatment, Vaeth said.

The agency even funds a lab at its headquarters where mosquito colonies are raised to test which chemicals are most effective on the worst of Baton Rouge’s 47 different species of mosquitoes, Vaeth said. Over the past 22 years, four new species of mosquitoes have arrived in the parish, “no doubt due to a warm climate,” Vaeth added.

“Applied research guides what we do, and surveillance drives what we do,” Vaeth said. “Science is the foundation for what we do … because it can really make a difference.”

A significant part of MARC’s name, but an often overlooked area is rodent control.

The agency limits itself to private residence inspections and bait distribution to avoid competing with commercial rodent control. But it did step in for one high-profile case of rat infestation.

A video of a massive colony of rats moving in near a McDonalds and a Walmart at the intersection of Old Hammond Highway and Airline Highway drew national attention, and MARC inspectors were called in by city officials to clear them out, Vaeth said.

In southeast Louisiana, mosquitoes are likely to remain the center of attention for MARC.

The agency receives hundreds of calls for mosquito spraying each week, Goss said, and its inspectors don’t stop working until they’re all filled.

“A lot of people don’t see the things we do,” Goss said. “We do a lot, and people don’t know it until we don’t.”

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