By Stan Maddux
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) is defending itself against claims by a honey maker blaming the spraying of mosquitoes for the death of half of his bees in the northwest part of the state.
According to the ISDH, the Sept. 22 spraying was in response to a human case of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) in LaPorte County and suspected cases of EEE in horses in LaPorte, LaGrange and Kosciusko counties, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
The aerial spraying conducted by the ISDH took place over some 375,000 acres in parts of LaPorte, Kosciusko, LaGrange, Elkhart and Noble counties.
The ISDH said EEE is fatal in more than 30 percent of human cases and the pesticide used in the spraying, Dibrom, has been registered with the U.S. EPA since 1959 for use in the country. ISDH officials also said the timing of the spraying was also conveyed to communities in advance of the application.
“Evening applications of Dibrom were not expected to be harmful to bees since bees are usually in their hives at that time, but beekeepers were advised that they might want to cover their hives and prevent bees from exiting during the application as a precaution,” ISDH officials said.
Phil Janik, Jr., also known as “The Hoosier Bee Man,” has 75 hives at his home near Michigan City.
He said the spraying began about 5 p.m. when half of his bees were still foraging away from their hives. After spraying started, the bees never returned to their hives as they always do prior to nightfall, he said.
Janik also said he didn’t close his hives until several hours after the spraying began fearing they would die from lack of ventilation if covered sooner as recommended.
Nevertheless, he said half of his other dead bees succumbed to heat exhaustion despite keeping his hives closed from a shorter duration.
Janik said he was given advance notice but wished it would have come sooner to make sure the recommended safeguards for protecting his bees were accurate.
“It’s like the old saying. A day late and a dollar short. I’m a dollar short right now,” he said.
Information about the spraying was also shared statewide and with local health departments in the affected counties four days prior to the aerial application of the pesticide, according to ISDH.
According to the U.S. EPA, Dibrom is used primarily to control adult mosquitoes. It’s also registered to control black flies and leaf-eating insects on a variety of fruits, vegetables and nuts.
About 70 percent of the pesticide is used in mosquito control and rest for use in agriculture, EPA said. The agency said the chemical can also kill bees outside of their hives at the time of spraying which is why applications typically occur between dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active.
EPA also recommends beekeepers cover their colonies during spraying or move their colonies to another site that will not be sprayed.
Janik said losing so many bees will put a dent in what promised to be a strong fall honey crop. “I had them geared up and ready for the winter. I had honey supers on everything trying to capture that last blast of goldenrod and aster honey coming in for the winter,” Janik said.
Janik said he’s now trying hard to get his surviving bees to repopulate fast enough for him to have a decent spring harvest of honey.
“Trying to get it built back up is my mission right now,” Janik said.
Janik, 57, grew up in nearby Valparaiso but after retiring in Florida moved back to Northwest Indiana about five years ago to help take care of his parents.
He then started making honey because of his interest in bees dating back to when he was a child. Janik said he and his brother as a game used to catch and place bees in glass jars and whoever got stung was punched in the arm.
His bees usually produce about 6,000 pounds of honey annually but without much of a fall crop the volume this year could be reduced by as much as 50 percent.
Most of his sales are from people showing up at his doorstep while the rest is done online at hoosierbeeman.com.
“It’s not a good situation but I’ll get through it,” he said.