The Ministry of the Environment has been granted statutory responsibility for the control and surveillance of pests harmful to man, for licensing and supervising pest control operators and for registering insecticides for the protection of public health. Since the transfer of responsibility for health-related pest surveillance and control from the Ministry of Health to the Ministry of the Environment in 1991, intensive efforts have been invested in encouraging environmentally-responsible behavior. Efforts are now beginning to bear fruit in nearly every area use of environmentally-friendly materials and biological control in river rehabilitation, advancement of research studies on pest control, improved training of pest control operators, introduction of integrated pest management, and most importantly, institution of preventive measures. Since the custom of frequent and indiscriminate spraying over large areas is relatively widespread in many communities, attention is currently being focused on the source of the problem and preventive action is encouraged. Consumers and pest control operators are being taught that pest control can be practiced both effectively and safely, without harm to nature reserves, rivers or human beings.
Pest Control Operators
Regulations under the Licensing of Businesses Law restrict those authorized to work as pest control operators to holders of special permits. Operators are required to pass a special qualification examination, given by the Public Health Instruction Center of the Ministry of Health, in order to be licensed by the Ministry of the Environment. Course material has been revised and adapted to accord with Environment Ministry requirements. The ministry organizes study and instruction days for pest control operators and undertakes administrative measures against operators who contravene the regulations. Inspection and supervision of illegal pest-control operations will intensify as a result of the recent addition of manpower recruited expressly for this purpose.
It is estimated that some 800 licensed operators work in Israel today; their activities encompass the control of mosquitoes, flies, sandflies, wasps, ticks, fleas and cockroaches as well as rats and mice. All have been issued new registration certificates replete with photograph to ease their identification by the public. The registration system is now computerized, thus facilitating more efficient follow up and transfer of information, including updating of personal details, participation in study days and permit expiration dates.
Insecticides for the Protection of Public Health
The registration process for insecticides for the protection of public health is separate from that for agricultural use. As of March 1992, every insecticide permit for public health purposes must be approved by a statutory professional committee which is composed of six representatives, evenly divided between the Ministry of the Environment and the Ministry of Health. Registration is granted for a period of three years; every renewal presents an opportunity to withdraw substances which are discovered to be carcinogenic or otherwise unsafe. The committee deliberates on every case regarding matters of application, use, storage and disposal. Maximal efforts are being made to advance alternative methods of pest-control and the use of environmentally-friendly materials, within the framework of guidelines, courses and study days.
In accordance with an agreement between the two ministries, a regulation has recently been promulgated, within the framework of the Hazardous Substances Law, transferring authority for registration from the Ministry of Health to the Ministry of the Environment.
Combating malaria was once the province of the Ministry of Health; it now constitutes the bulk of the activity of the Pest Surveillance and Control Division of the Ministry of the Environment. The division is responsible for monitoring mosquito breeding sites (both Anopheles and Culex), guiding local authorities, and enforcement. Today, the monitoring and inspection system is separate from the mosquito-eradication system: local authorities are required to exterminate mosquitoes when discovered by the monitoring teams of the Ministry of the Environment. Nevertheless, the Ministry of the Environment is equipped with pest control kits for emergency use.
Mosquito surveillance is undertaken by regional mosquito control inspectors of the Ministry of the Environment who routinely visit all potential Anopheles breeding sites and search for larvae, which are then submitted for identification to the Entomological Laboratory of the Ministry of Health. The Ministry of the Environment’s surveillance program encompasses monitoring, once to three times each month, in some 1,000 potential Anopheles breeding sites throughout the country. Since more than half of the water reservoirs which are potential breeding grounds for the Anopheles mosquitoes are in the north of the country, monitoring activities are concentrated there. In 1993, 194 natural and other water sources (e.g. fishing pools and rainwater reservoirs) were monitored in the northern region.
When mosquitoes are discovered, the responsible authorities are notified and instructed to undertake immediate control activities, in accordance with guidelines on prevention and treatment issued by the Ministry of the Environment. Wherever possible, recommendations call for the use of natural enemies and biological insecticides. In contrast to past practices, pest control activities are increasingly being undertaken on the basis of monitoring results rather than arbitrary calendar days.
Until the 1950s, malaria was prevalent in Israel. As in other temperate zones, successful control of malaria was achieved without complete elimination of Anopheline mosquitoes (the vectors of malaria) using a variety of direct and indirect control measures. While the country has been free of indigenous malaria for decades, increased tourism and the immigration of malaria-carriers have raised concern over the potential of malaria resurgence. Furthermore, since the early 1980s, several important malaria vectors have expanded their geographical range in Israel. In the exceptionally rainy winter of 1992, for example, monitoring revealed four Anopheles species in two wadis in the northern Negev. In these, as in other cases, species identification was immediately followed by appropriate control measures on the part of the relevant local authorities.
Although a significant resurgence of malaria in Israel is unlikely, the risk of a localized outbreak of introduced malaria cases due to infection of local Anopheline mosquitoes by imported cases does exist. Therefore, a national computerized surveillance system of breeding sites of Anopheles mosquitoes and imported malaria cases was established in 1992 using the Ministry of the Environment’s geographical information system (GIS). Distances between population centers and breeding sites were calculated, and maps associating epidemiological and entomological data were generated. Risk of malaria transmission was assessed with consideration of vectorial capacity and flight range of the Anopheles species. Breeding sites within flight distance of locations with imported malaria cases are targeted for enhanced surveillance and intensive vector control activities. The GIS-based surveillance system ensures that if a localized outbreak does occur, it will be associated rapidly with a likely breeding site, a specific Anopheles vector and a probable human source, so that prompt control measures can be efficiently targeted.
Alongside monitoring activities focused on the Anopheles mosquito, monitoring of the breeding sites of the Culex mosquito is also actively pursued. For example, reports concerning an outbreak of Reef Valley Fever in northern Egypt in 1993 catalyzed preventive action on the part of all relevant authorities. The viral disease, which attacks sheep and cattle, may be transferred to humans, inter alia by the mosquito known as Culex pipiens. All potential breeding grounds for the Culex mosquito, such as reservoirs, oxidation ponds and sewage-ridden rivers, were therefore mapped, and surveillance was undertaken together with local authority personnel.
Integrated Pest Management
Environmentally-safe pest control requires a holistic approach. All too frequently, a specific solution to an environmental problem may bring about a long chain of additional nuisances. The case of river rehabilitation provides one such example. Discharge of sewage to rivers causes mosquito breeding which has traditionally resulted in the dispersal of environmentally-unfriendly products (e.g. pyrethroid and organophosphorus insecticides or malariol). While mosquitoes are eradicated, so is the natural life of the river including the natural predators of the insects.
Today, the Ministry of the Environment guides relevant bodies to undertake integrated activities, such as prevention of sewage discharge, free-flow of the water stream, use of natural enemies such as gambusias (Gambusia affinis) and use of environmentally- friendly materials such as BTI
(Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis) and mono-layer oil (MLO), which eradicate mosquitoes without harming fish and other natural life in the water.
While prevention of sewage discharge is an essential element in river rehabilitation, clean water can also be a source of mosquito breeding. Each water source is associated with its own unique mosquitoes; each requires its own pest control activities. River rehabilitation requires continuous follow up over the development of habitats which enable the breeding of Anopheles and Culex mosquitoes, application of selective insecticides which minimally harm the environment, and use of natural enemies, such as fish, wherever possible.
Predatory fish will also be used in the reflooded area of the former Hula wetlands, a classic case whereby an attempt to solve one environmental problem has led to a host of others. The Hula was drained forty years ago in order to reclaim the land for agricultural use and to rid the area of vectors of malaria in the swamps. The result: disappearance of the valley’s unique wildlife, erosion and sinking of the peat lands, rising of the water table, spontaneous fires and rodents, as well as extensive nitrification and leaching of nitrates, endangering the quality of Lake Kinneret waters. The area is now being partially reflooded in an effort to "correct" the ecological mistake and develop the region for eco-tourism working in harmony with nature rather than against it. Forty years ago, DDT was widely used to control malaria in the area; today, biological controls, such as natural enemies and controlled use of environmentally- safe pesticides, will be used to ensure that malaria does not return. Since reflooding may bring about renewed mosquito breeding, the project administration will undertake routine monitoring in accordance with guidelines submitted by the Ministry of the Environment, and will send samples to the ministry for identification.
Legal Framework for Pest Control
The Public Health Ordinance provides the basis for mosquito control. According to the law, authority is vested in the Minister of the Environment to impose measures for the prevention and control of mosquito breeding and for the application of anti- malaria provisions. The law requires tenants or owners to undertake measures for the prevention of mosquito breeding and requires holders or owners of irrigated lands to prevent mosquito breeding in wells, and in drainage, irrigation and other canals. The Minister of the Environment is authorized to require holders or owners of land, which are transversed by rivers or water conduits, to undertake the necessary means to prevent mosquito breeding.
A 1992 amendment to the Commodities and Services (Control) Order, which deals with pesticides for the protection of public health, changed the composition of the advisory committee on insecticides. The committee is now chaired by a representative of the Ministry of the Environment and is composed of an equal number of representatives from the Ministries of Health and the Environment. A regulation promulgated in 1994, within the framework of the Hazardous Substances Law of 1993, transferred responsibility for registration for insecticides with medical importance from the Ministry of Health to the Ministry of the Environment.
A 1993 amendment to the Licensing of Businesses Regulations on pest control calls for increased supervision of pest control operators and further control of the use of insecticides. The regulations oblige pest control operators to maintain record books with full details of each extermination and provides a revised listing of preparations approved for use.