MRCU director: I will not resign

Mosquito Research and Control Unit director James McNelly said he does not intend to resign following the leaked release of an alleged letter of no confidence in his leadership.

James McNelly, director, Mosquito Research and Control Unit

“I have seen a letter that was on some blog,” McNelly told the Cayman Compass. “I will not comment on HR-related content. However, there are more than several factual errors in that letter.”

The letter, which is alleged to have been signed by several staff members of the MRCU, claimed mosquito-control measures implemented by McNelly have failed and resulted in an unprecedented increase in Cayman’s mosquito population.

Asked if he would leave the MRCU in light of the letter of no confidence, McNelly told the Compass, “I have no intention of resigning.”

The letter reads in part, “Since the arrival of Dr. McNelly, changes have been made to how we control mosquitos and these changes have resulted in the mosquito population reaching numbers that most of us have never experienced before… instead of controlling the mosquito we are now just watching it spread across the island.”

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The letter claims that, on McNelly’s orders, “all 14 Disease Prevention Officers are spending 150% of their time devoted to surveilling swamp mosquitos”, – a claim McNelly refuted.

“The activity in question, swamp surveillance, is performed Monday and Thursday,” said McNelly. “That’s two of five working days, or less than 50% of a normal work week for the 13 DPOs working on Grand Cayman.”

Another claim McNelly has dismissed is that he has introduced unsafe and ineffective products to combat the increase in mosquitos.

“MRCU has been operational throughout the coronavirus lockdown and have sprayed far more this year than we have in previous years,” stated the letter. “What has changed is the way we approach mosquito control. The introduction of new products has taken place before they have been evaluated and we believe some of the newly introduced products to be unacceptable for use in Cayman.”

According to the letter, McNelly suspended the pre-hatch treatments of swamps, which resulted in a greater number of mosquito eggs hatching during the current wet season. McNelly told the Compass this is not true.

“Treatments were made to sites from Barkers to South Sound going back to May 11,” he said.

According to the letter, staff have refused to spray Fyfanon, “due to concerns [they] have about its safety”.

“Fyfanon is the trade name for a formulation that includes the active ingredient malathion,” said McNelly. “Malathion has been used previously on Grand Cayman, prior to my arrival. My position is that any formulation approved for use against mosquitoes by the US Environmental Protection Agency can be used by MRCU when appropriate and according to the label.”

According to the EPA, Malathion has been used to control the mosquito population in the US since 1956. In 2016, the EPA said its preliminary findings did find some health concerns for humans if it is deployed by air.

“The draft human health risk assessment raises some concerns about the use of malathion applied by air,” reads the EPA website. “The use of malathion by ground application (fogging equipment mounted on trucks) does not raise concerns.”

The EPA said it has released advice on how to reduce the health risks posed by aerial spraying of malathion. McNelly said his team follows strict instructions when deploying the product.

The Compass reached out to the Ministry of Health, under which the MRCU falls, with questions regarding a recent advertising of McNelly’s job, and the ministry’s efforts to address the alleged letter of no confidence. No response was received by publication time.

However, speaking in the Legislative Assembly last month in response to a question from George Town Central MLA Kenneth Bryan, Health Minister Dwayne Seymour said an internal investigation was being conducted at the MRCU, following the emergence of the letter of no confidence in McNelly.

Seymour said he first learned of the situation from the media.

“Normally, it’s posted first before we even know about it. I didn’t know about it until it was posted in the media,” he said.

“This is not something that you want to hear about one of the departments under your remit. I’ve since spoken to the chief officer and she undertook to investigate the matter.”

Acting Chief Officer Nellie Pouchie said the ministry was conducting interviews with staff to look into the situation.

“Obviously, it involves very intricate staff details, so I don’t want to get into those specifics other than to say that we did meet with all staff and we’re having individual interviews now with staff there to get persons to be able to open up completely and confidentially to what issues and concerns they have,” Pouchie told legislators.

“We obviously take these sorts of matters very seriously. There is an active process under way to be able to understand what’s happening and what concerns staff have and whether or not those are legitimate.”

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