So­lu­tions still not near for fly in­fes­ta­tions

In­sects bug­ging res­i­dents in Lon­don Grove, Ken­nett, Franklin and beyond

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - DAILY LOCAL NEWS - By Chris Bar­ber cbar­ber@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com

The large turnout at a town meet­ing to dis­cuss pesky mush­room flies known as phorids was a clear in­di­ca­tion that these in­sects have in­vaded a wider area of south­ern Ch­ester County than was pre­vi­ously thought.

New Gar­den Town­ship Su­per­vi­sors Chair­man Steve Al­la­band said he had or­dered 165 chairs laid out at the Avon­dale Fire Com­pany last week, and by the time the meet­ing started they were full, with other peo­ple stand­ing against the walls.

The gath­er­ing was called by state Sen. Andy Din­ni­man, D-19, of West White­land, who has been work­ing with the res­i­dents of the Har­ro­gate com­mu­nity on their in­sect in­va­sion prob­lem. The last time they met was in May, when Din­ni­man was joined by sci­en­tists Dave Beyer and Eric Toedter to dis­cuss the sever­ity of the prob­lem and what progress had been achieved in un­der­stand­ing how to at­tack it. At the time, the res­i­dents of this age-re­stricted com­mu­nity just off Lime­stone Road told hor­ror sto­ries about the pres­ence of the tiny bugs that are pre­sumed to come from beds where mush­rooms grow.

A the fo­rum, the au­di­ence in­cluded not only those from Har­ro­gate, but oth­ers from through­out Lon­don Grove, Ken­nett, Franklin and beyond.

The bugs were still around, they said, and they wanted some ac­tion, even ask­ing for mush­room grow­ing op­er­a­tions to be shut down.

This time the speak­ers in­cluded Penn­syl­va­nia Deputy Sec­re­tary of Agri­cul­ture Fred Strath­meyer, mush­room in­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tive Phil Coles, Beyer and Penn State en­to­mol­o­gist Tom Baker, in ad­di­tion to New Gar­den Man­ager Tony Scheivert, and they all had their turns to speak and an­swer ques­tions.

Strath­meyer voiced his shared frus­tra­tion with the res­i­dents that there was not much of a gov­ern­ment re­sponse to their prob­lems.

“We have no reg­u­la­tory au­thor­ity over what is go­ing on . ... You lost Di­azi­non (a pow­er­ful in­sec­ti­cide that was banned and had killed the phorids). It took care of the flies be­fore,” he said.

He added that to make mat­ters worse, chem­i­cal com­pa­nies do not

have as big an in­cen­tive to de­velop new prod­ucts for smaller in­dus­tries like mush­rooms as they do for more wide­spread and big­ger crops like corn and wheat.

Coles, a grower with Giorgi Mush­room Com­pany in Berks County, was asked to speak about the con­trols com­pa­nies had used with the phorids. He said he did not know why Girogi did not have phorids, but that his com­pany’s prac­tices were for all in­tents and pur­poses the same as the Ch­ester County com­pa­nies that did. He knew that peo­ple were won­der­ing why Giorgi was dif­fer­ent.

“We know there is a rea­son, but we don’t know what it is,” he said.

His com­pany has not turned its back on the prob­lem, how­ever, and has con­trib­uted over $100,000 to the re­search. The phorids are not only a prob­lem for the pop­u­la­tion in gen­eral, but they con­sume the spawn runs of the mush­room grow­ing op­er­a­tions and cause fi­nan­cial losses in the in­dus­try, he said.

Barb Run­kle, an in­dus­tri­ous and sci­ence-driven mem­ber of the Har­ro­gate com­mu­nity said she has done ex­ten­sive re­search and is cer­tain the phorids are com­ing from mush­room op­er­a­tions. Not only are they an­noy­ing, but they cover walls, land on food, sneak in tiny open­ings and pos­si­bly cause health prob­lems. She men­tioned that the bugs are doc­u­mented to con­sume rot­ting and de­cay­ing tis­sue, and she has fears they could at­tack peo­ple who have open wounds and shin­gles.

She also de­scribed the be­hav­ior of the phorids, say­ing they tend to avoid dark­ness, but when the lights are turned on they are at­tracted to it. “We live in to­tal dark­ness,” she said.

When the au­di­ence took their turns for com­ments and ques­tions, sev­eral res­i­dents said they were so an­noyed by the flies that they wanted to move away. Many said the con­di­tions brought down real es­tate val­ues. Some said the mush­room com­pa­nies should shut down.

Some in­sisted on know­ing why Di­azi­non had been banned and why it couldn’t be brought back, to which they were told that wasn’t go­ing to hap­pen.

One women said she had suc­cess with an elec­tronic in­sect zap­per. They at­tract the bugs to light and then kill them when they land. It is called the As­pect Tech Bug Zap­per.

Baker, who is study­ing ways to at­tract or re­pel the phorids by meth­ods other than Di­azi­non, said he is ex­per­i­ment­ing with pheromones, those sub­tle odor­if­er­ous com­pounds that are given off by an­i­mals and in­sects and are in­volved in sex­ual at­trac­tion. It was dif­fi­cult, he said, be­cause for lab­o­ra­tory ex­per­i­men­ta­tion he needed to use vir­gin fe­male flies.

With that, an al­most frus­trated tit­ter went through the au­di­ence, as if the quest for vir­gin bugs was an in­di­ca­tion of how far they were from get­ting a so­lu­tion, and the flies are only one-eighth of an inch in size.

Din­ni­man, who is run­ning against Jack Lon­don for Penn­syl­va­nia’s 19th state Se­na­to­rial Dis­trict, said he was sym­pa­thetic with his au­di­ence and was glad they had come to­gether to share in­for­ma­tion. It was a step to­ward a so­lu­tion, he said.

“It’s an atro­cious and hor­ren­dous prob­lem,” he said, not­ing that he had been in touch with many gov­ern­ment agen­cies that seem to want to iden­tify that the prob­lem ex­ists but have no in­ter­est in solv­ing it.

“We found that ev­ery agency said, ‘We have no re­spon­si­bil­ity.’ We have to get agen­cies in­volved,” he said.

Strath­meyer closed the meet­ing by telling the au­di­ence that he has only re­cently be­come aware of the prob­lem in Ch­ester County, and it is sim­i­lar to other bug prob­lems that have at­tacked other crops. He said that with this in­for­ma­tion he has the power to get the Department of Agri­cul­ture in­volved, be­cause he is part of it.

Scheivert told the au­di­ence mem­bers as they left to feel free to call him and to call their man­agers in other mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to make sure they know the prob­lem ex­ists and is se­vere.

CHRIS BAR­BER — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Har­ro­gate res­i­dent and phorid fly sleuth Bar­bara Run­kle de­scribes her ex­pe­ri­ences and re­search on the phorid fly.

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