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And Now You Know: Orange Fights Polio with Plans to Spray Fly Habitats

Mike Louviere
And Now You Know

In June 1950, the Orange city commission announced plans to spray the entire city to try to eradicate flies that could carry “polio germs.” A short while after the decision to spray was announced, another announcement was made that the spraying would not occur as previously stated.

An article published in a Sunday edition of the Beaumont Enterprise stated the decision to not spray was based on objections from ‘influential persons who were bird lovers” who said the spraying could be harmful to birds in the Orange area.

Local citizens, especially parents, had voiced strong objections to the cancellation of the spraying program after the rumor about spraying harming birds. Angry mothers and fathers wanted to know who the bird lovers were who thought more of the birds than the children of Orange.

City Commissioner Tom Williams stated the decision to not spray had nothing to do with anyone’s objections.

The city commission stated that Texas had more polio cases than any other state in the Union. In Orange, there had been two cases in the Cove area and one in Navy Park.

The commission’s decision to not spray city-wide was based on the advice of Dr. George W. Cox, head of the State Department of Health, who said that mass fogging had not been effective in San Antonio and other places where it had been tried. The council’s plan was not to cancel spraying, rather to follow the advice of Dr. Cox.

The new plan was to spray Riverside and the Cove area. The Navy would spray Navy Park according to its own program. Sanitarians of the city and county health units had been ordered to comb the other neighborhoods and adjacent areas to search for breeding areas for flies. According to Dr. Cox flies were the only insects at this time suspected of spreading the polio virus.

All such spots were to be “wet sprayed”; they would be drenched in liquid insecticide which kills not only adult flies, but also eggs and embryos.

The county commissioners would be contacted and asked to cooperate with the city in cleaning up and spraying breeding areas for flies outside the city and in adjacent areas.

Williams said Dr. Cox was of the opinion this procedure would be more effective than city wide spraying which would harm vegetation and only kill adult flies. Williams also said particular attention would be paid to pit toilets, septic tanks, open sewers, drainage ditches, and accumulations of filth.

“These will be dealt with wherever they are found and regardless of bird life in the vicinity,” Williams said. “The original plan to spray the entire city was made during a regular monthly city council meeting before we had the advice of Dr. Cox. If anybody can show us where the head of the state health department is wrong and citywide spraying would accomplish anything toward keeping down polio, they can be sure the city commission will order every inch of the city sprayed, no matter who objects.”

The spraying of the Riverside area began June 19, 1950, by Dr. M.E. Maier, Jr., operator of the Doc Fog franchise, assisted by John E. Wheeler Orange health unit sanitarian.

How the rumor of how objections by bird lovers reached the Beaumont Enterprise was never discovered. There had been no reporters present at the city commissioners meeting.

The names of the “influential bird lovers” were never revealed.

“And now you know.”