Plans for releasing genetically altered mosquitoes to reduce the population of the species that carries dengue fever are already on hold, but at least one Key West city commissioner wants extra assurances that the project will not have ill effects on people or the local environment.
Commissioner Jimmy Weekley plans to introduce a resolution when the commission meets Tuesday expressing the body's opposition to use of the altered mosquitoes until questions regarding safety concerns can more adequately be answered.
The resolution's message is simple and terse, stating that "the City Commission is opposed to the introduction of genetically altered mosquitoes to Key West and the Florida Keys until further research is provided and approved."
The Florida Keys Mosquito Control District plans to introduce Aedes aegypti mosquitoes that are modified to produce nonviable offspring. The hope is when the "Frankenbugs" mate with wild Aedes aegypts, the offspring will be unable to reproduce, thus cutting down on the "bad" mosquito population.
Passage of the City Commission resolution would prove one more setback to the district, which has struggled to find an agency to regulate the project.
"I think the resolution is pretty much the sentiment of people who have approached me," Weekley said Thursday. "They say we don't know what the impacts could be, and until the citizenry feels more comfortable, I don't believe mosquito control ought to move forward with this project. We don't want to be the guinea pigs. Let's find out what the impacts are going to be and how it is going to affect everything before we move ahead."
Mayor Craig Cates said he will listen to the discussion before determining how he will vote.
"I know there's a lot of talk on both sides of that; I am not sure," Cates said. "They are professionals in that field and know more than I do. I am going to have to listen to both sides."
Plans have been in the works to introduce the mosquitoes into Old Town later this year. The district's director, Michael Doyle, has said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Agriculture, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency, Food and Drug Administration and other agencies have been approached as potential permit-givers, but so far all have said they have no jurisdiction.
Doyle recently gave a presentation to the commissioners, but was unable to answer questions about potential effects to the satisfaction of some.
"It concerns me that the commission would be making a decision like that with so little information to go on," Doyle said. "It is a very technical issue, and to make a proclamation of that type -- if I was a commissioner, I would want to get all the facts."
Doyle said he is willing to talk with each commissioner individually to address their concerns, or to make another presentation if need be.
"I think there are a lot of mistaken assumptions about how the actual technology will work," Doyle said. "I really fear a decision made by local decision-makers could be a decision based on mistaken assumptions."