Solutions still not near for fly infestations
Insects bugging residents in London Grove, Kennett, Franklin and beyond
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.
Harrogate resident and phorid fly sleuth Barbara Runkle describes her experiences and research on the phorid fly.