Green Pools Breeding Ground for West Nile Virus
With the number of foreclosures soaring in the metro-Phoenix area, people are forced to walk away from their homes and some are leaving behind big problems for their neighbors.
Many of these abandoned homes have pools in their backyards. When the electricity is discontinued, pool pumps cannot operate, so pools become stagnant and are ideal places for mosquitoes to breed. Many of them play host to the life cycle of the Culex tarsalis, the species of mosquito that spreads West Nile Virus.
“Basically, algae covers them from the steps to the sides and they are completely green and full of mosquitoes just breeding,” said Liz Morganroth a Realtor from Realty Executives who works in the valley and sees first hand what happens when pools are abandoned.
Reports of green pools are up substantially this year, said Aimee Upton who works in enforcement for county environmental services.
Last year there were 4,985 cases. This year, as of August 21, there have been 4,289 complaints and typically, September is a busy month for vector control in relation to the pools, she said.
Vector control is part of the Water and Waste Management Division of the Environmental Services Department in Maricopa County. Its staff investigates citizen complaints dealing with mosquitoes, flies and non-native rodents. It also enforces and ensures compliance of the Maricopa County Environmental Health Code.
So far this year there have been 20 human cases of the virus reported in Maricopa
County, far ahead of last year’s count, when in mid-July of last year, no cases had been reported, say environmental health officials.
Although there are no hard statistics linking the spike in the number of abandoned pools to the increase in foreclosures and cases of West Nile Virus, the green pool problem has become more than worrisome for homeowners associations, environmental health officials and Realtors.
Morganroth, said it can be at least three months before a real estate agent can be assigned to the property to sell after the lender releases back onto the market. In the preceding months, after the electricity has been turned off, add monsoon rain, dust, wind and blowing debris, and the pools have turned into swamps.
She said it really bothers her to see kid’s toys outside homes in a well-kept neighborhood, knowing that in close proximity mosquitoes are breeding in an abandoned pool.
Most homeowner associations are overwhelmed and cannot keep up with the foreclosures, and expense of caring for the abandoned pools in their developments, she said.
During the first half of this year, foreclosures have almost tripled. In all of 2006 there were 1,073 foreclosures in Maricopa County. During the first half of 2007, there have already been 2,954.
Morganroth said of the 27 foreclosed-upon properties assigned to her, about 40 percent of them have swampy pools.
Because the increased threat of West Nile Virus, officials from environmental services will go anywhere at just about any time to educate the public about how to “Fight The Bite,” which is the name of their campaign to check the disease. They will speak in front of clubs, groups, and organizations, at neighborhood gatherings and senior centers, teaching people how to identify places were mosquitoes can breed and to report green pools if they see them, said Johnny Dilone, spokesman for the Maricopa County Department of Environmental Health.
“The public is more educated knowing if there is a green pool, they should report it to the county,” Dilone said.
Upton said when her department learns of a green pool, they are more interested in compliance then enforcement, but if steps are not taken to correct the problem, charges can be filed.
The technicians will at first attempt to contact the owner of the house with a “door order,” Upton said. Then if the problem is not fixed in 48 hours, a certified letter is sent and then another follow-up visit takes place. If the problem is not corrected, a search warrant is served so that technicians can get into the yard, treat the pool to check the growth of larvae. It takes only seven days for the larvae to grown into an adult mosquito.
To report a green pool call the West Nile Hotline at (602) 506-0700 or visit www.mariciopa.gov/wnv.