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Tests on huge bee-kill may be bungled

Published Oct. 13, 2005

It seems that Steve Grande, the Brandon beekeeper who has accused Hillsborough Mosquito Control of killing millions of his honeybees, still lacks the evidence to prove his case. Tests in a Tallahassee lab have failed to detect any traces of the Dibrom-14 insecticide on the dead bees.

"We can't say how the bees died, but no pesticides were detected," said George Fong, chief of the chemical residue lab for the state Department of Agriculture.

Grande, a commercial beekeeper, said he lost about 33-million bees May 29, shortly after a Mosquito Control plane sprayed Dibrom over a mangrove area near Apollo Beach. He said that cost him about $150,000 in bees and honey.

It is the second time in two years that Grande has accused Mosquito Control of killing his bees. The last time, the county rejected his complaint for lack of evidence.

This time, aware that Dibrom breaks down quickly and can be difficult to detect, officials gathered thousands of bees and promised a prompt test. But they may have been too slow.

"It took several days to get the samples forwarded to the lab," said Richard Gaskalla, of the Agriculture Department. "We had a new inspector who was not familiar with all of our procedures. We had an employee out sick. A lot of different circumstances added up to our not being as efficient as we usually are."

Gaskalla said he thought that even with the delay, some chemical residue should have remained on the bees.

But Clarke Hudson, a Dibrom salesman in Orlando, said the chemical breaks down "in a matter of hours."

Grande said he is not surprised the inspection went awry.

He said he does not trust any of the government agencies involved in the case and has gathered and frozen his own bee samples, saving them to be tested independently.

Mosquito Control and risk management officials said they had not received formal notice from the lab, and could not comment.

Grande, meanwhile, said he will continue to urge county officials to conduct their mosquito spraying away from the bees and in the dark, when bees remain in or near their hives.

"We can't tell them to stop spraying, or they'll just tell us to jump in the lake," he said.