State agriculture officials refused yesterday to discontinue using malathion to kill mosquitoes, despite complaints that it can cause health problems.
"An uncontrolled mosquito population can create a public health problem," Lewis R. Riley, secretary of agriculture, said at a meeting with opponents of the program.
He promised to give the Governor's Pesticide Council information provided by opponents of the controversial pesticide, but he expressed confidence in the $1.8 million program that relies on malathion to kill the adult insects.
He said the mosquito control program, which operates in every jurisdiction in the state except Garrett County, is the most requested service the department offers.
The department relies on the federal Environmental Protection Agency for information on the hazards of pesticides, and malathion still is being tested, Mr. Riley said.
Mr. Riley and operators of the mosquito program met for about two hours with Annapolis resident Ruth Berlin, who has been diagnosed as suffering from malathion toxicity. She brought a group of people to bolster her case.
The meeting changed no one's mind.
Mr. Riley said he wants the pesticide round table, which approved the program in June, to have the information and wants his staff to evaluate the mosquito program to see if it can reduce pesticide use.
But Ms. Berlin said, she will continue to tell people about the danger of malathion, as she first did two weeks ago at a meeting she organized.
Ms. Berlin and Jay Feldman, executive director of the National Coalition Against the Misuse of Pesticides, argued that there have been no studies done on either long-term health risks or repeated low-dosage risks of malathion.
Preliminary and anecdotal information, they said, would indicate the pesticide may be hazardous, causing neurological, respiratory and other problems.
Ms. Berlin became ill about four years ago after malathion spraying in California, and her 8-year-old son is also sensitive to the product, she said.
"People can use mosquito repellent. But there is no repellent for us," she said.
Cyrus Lesser, who heads the mosquito program, countered that mosquitoes spread disease, including two types of malaria that were thought to have been eradicated long ago but turned up in two states in the Northeast in recent years.
The state uses larvicide, predatory fish and a false hormone to destroy young mosquitoes before they use malathion to kill the adults, Mr. Lesser said. the chemical is sprayed full-strength at a rate of two-thirds of an ounce per acre, he said, and it works only for 300 feet.
The 300-foot buffer is not enough for Ms. Berlin, whose lawyer said the psychotherapist has become ill when malathion was sprayed a mile from her home.
Del. Marsha G. Perry of Crofton said she remains cautious about malathion.
"I'm not real happy with the product," she said. "I keep seeing those two words: inconclusive data."