A trap placed near the problematic fire hydrant drew an army of mosquitoes a few years ago. Photo courtesy of block residents known as “the Mosquito Squad”.

By Joy Bergmann

They feed at night. Squeezing through any available crack or crevice. Sneaking up sewer pipes. Thwarting all mesh covers, caulk and other futile measures taken by the warm-blooded residents of West 84th Street between West End Avenue and Riverside Drive (also known as Edgar Allan Poe Street).

They are the oversized, flesh-welting mosquitoes called Culex pipiens molestus and they have besieged this block since at least 2011, causing sleep deprivation, serious allergic reactions (especially in children and those with weakened immune systems), bites with week-long itching and – perhaps most distressing – endless runaround from city agencies about how to eradicate this extra-hardy pest and potential serious disease vector, residents say. We broke the story about this problem several years ago, as well as the city’s previous spotty efforts to remedy it.

Residents have been waking up with welts. Photo courtesy of the Mosquito Squad.

“It’s the number three mosquito-control priority from the city’s point of view, behind Zika and West Nile, but it’s this block’s number one priority,” says Tom, a resident and member of the block’s volunteer Mosquito Squad. “If we could get one official to spend one night in any of our homes, the next morning it would become a city priority.”

Residents say they’ve spent years attempting to work with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Transportation to investigate the underground habitat of these mosquitoes – to no avail. “In other infestations, the City flushes the sewers and treats them with larvacide, and that cures it,” says Pauline Galiana, another Mosquito Squad activist. “But on our block and the surrounding area, there are still mosquitoes.”

Edgar Allen Poe once lived here. Coincidence? Photo by Joy Bergmann.

After consulting with scientists around the world and painstakingly tracking where mosquitoes were most prevalent – and when – the Mosquito Squad pinpointed the area around a mid-block fire hydrant as a prime suspect for the breeding colony’s location. Serendipitously, this past December, Con Ed began tearing up the street to refurbish its gas lines. The Mosquito Squad cheered this as an opportunity to look at what might lurk deep under the pavement. They contacted City agencies to take advantage of the cost-effective excavation moment.

No takers.

Exasperated, the Mosquito Squad rallied the entire block – all 403 families – to sign a petition asking Mayor de Blasio’s office to order the Department of Environmental Protection to dig under the suspect hydrant, or provide a reason why that could not happen:

The proximity of this colony in the sewer line adjacent to the mid-block hydrant, coupled with incontrovertible evidence of water-induced soil erosion around that hydrant, points to failed hydrant infrastructure as the primary source for this standing water – yet DEP has refused to commit resources to investigate the condition and DOH has refused to exert its authority under Article 151 to compel it to do so.

petition mosquitoes

Technically, residents say, the Department of Health should be citing the city for not adhering to Article 151 of the Health Code, because the mosquitoes’ breeding colony is likely within infrastructure controlled by the city:

In early February, the Mosquito Squad presented the signed petition at an interagency meeting arranged by Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal with DOH, DOT, DEP and a Mayor’s Office representative. To date, the residents have not heard back from the Mayor. Their demand remains: dig the hydrant hole, or tell us why you can’t.

The suspect fire hydrant. Photo by Joy Bergmann.

An interagency representative, the DEP and the DOH did not respond to requests for comment.

“For five years now, the residents of West 84th Street have been forced to sleep under netting as a result of a mosquito infestation that has been allowed to persist unabated,” says Assemblymember Rosenthal, who has been advocating, with residents, for City action to eliminate the mosquito population on the block.  “The city has been ensnared in its own net of bureaucracy and missed a golden opportunity when Con Edison tore up the block to investigate under the street to find the source of the infestation.”

Mosquito Squad-er Tom refuses to be defeated, “I’m hopeful that what we discover here could be applied to future instances; looking at our hydrant could provide a prototype solution. Why can’t they see that?”

Photo courtesy of the Mosquito Squad.

NEWS | 31 comments | permalink
    1. K8 says:

      Is there an active petition now? I’m sure fellow West Side Rag readers would be happy to sign it to help out our fellow UWSers, whether or not we live in the mosquito zone.

    2. UWSresident says:

      Better get Boquero?

    3. Runa says:

      I live on 90th between West End and Riverside and these mosquitoes have been bugging us in our backyard for years… We can never leave the backyard door open during the summer and after 5pm I can’t be outside there anymore since the mosquitoes are eating me alive… So sad when we are lucky enough to have an outdoor space, but cannot really enjoy it.. I even saw mosquitoes in December this year! Insane!

    4. Lesley Logan says:

      Time to populat Edgar A. Poe Sttreet with bats to eat mosquitos.

    5. UWSsurfer says:

      It is a horrible problem for those residents but I would caution the use of the city’s
      pesticide and larvacide.

      There is a cancer cluster on the UES where
      the city sprays for mosquitoes.

      • MJ says:

        Couldn’t agree more. Stay away from larvacide and pesticide!

        This is unacceptable…but typical for useless Rosenthal.

        • Cato says:

          Not fair. Linda Rosenthal, our state assembly representative, has been working with the residents since the problem started. She was instrumental in organizing the “Mosquito Squad” into a cohesive group. Linda Rosenthal also organized a Town Hall on the mosquito issue that was standing-room-only. As our representative to the state government, of course, there is only so much that she can accomplish since the fix has to come from the city.

          Our representative to the *city* government, on the other hand, *Helen* Rosenthal, has not been heard from and, so far as I know, has not done a blessed thing about this city problem.

          So if you want to talk about a “useless Rosenthal”, in fairness to Linda please be sure to specify which one you’re talking about.

    6. Jeff says:

      When do we want mosquitoes?

      • InWhySee says:

        Oh, Jeff. Thank you for the huge belly laugh you just provided to my husband and me. I’m going to be laughing at that all day!

    7. Catherine says:

      Tom and other Mosquito squaders – I live on W85 in the ssme block WEA-RSD. We have had mosquitos in our apt too. Have you contacted Channel 7 Arnold Diaz? This is the kind of story he loves.

    8. Bonnie says:

      I don’t know if or sure if this would help but in view of the fact the Zika virus is around, perhaps you should contact the CDC? Mosquitos carry other diseases also.

    9. C Fusco says:

      I’m on WE and 83rd St and with windows closed they still get in and feast on humans and pets. I vote for the bats as they will rid us of the problem in a safe and natural way.

    10. Miranda Smith says:

      So he mixed the water tunnel as well. This is the worst mayor we’ ve had . Neglecting cities infrastructure you will have more problems like this! Impeach!

    11. Pjrod says:

      I think contacting Arnold Diaz is a great idea. Good luck. This sounds horrible. I’m sure it doesn’t do much for your property values either. I guess it really epitomizes the dysfunction at City Hall.

    12. AmandaJ71284 says:

      I thought it was just me. My boyfriend and I moved on the block last summer and had an influx of mosquitos in our apartment. We would squat and kill at least 8 at night. And then we have to scrape their remains off our walls and ceilings. They started coming back into our apartment two weeks ago. On the first night my boyfriend got 13 bites on his right arm and 7 bites on his leg. It’s horrible! We thought it was just our apartment because we’re on the second floor facing the street. We were hoping we wouldn’t have to deal with it again once the weather got warmer but I guess we’re doomed!

    13. Steve in Manhattan says:

      We live in one of the greatest cities in the world, and this is a 5 year old problem? Geeze – was in Tokyo a few weeks ago – the infrastructure was in excellent shape, and a problem like this would be solved inside a month.

    14. B.W. says:

      I am on West 85th between Columbus and CPW, and they have been a nuisance for me over the last 1-2 years. In fact, just last night, one had made it into my living room through a cracked window and was aggressively trying to get me, but it didn’t end well for the mosquito.

    15. Cog says:

      I was an early member of the mosquito squad. We live between west end and Broadway and have been battling them for five years. We live in fear of mild weather. Not even hot, anything above 50 is enough for these mosquitos. These are extra large, very strong mosquitos. I killed several as late in he year as December. I haven’t opened my windows since 2012 because my children were bit on their faces to the point of illness. And I know the heads of mosquito squad have been working tirelessly. They brought the story to CBS a few years back to no avail. The city has been unresponsive despite very serious and organized efforts to eradicate. I have given up hope that this will ever go away.

    16. AC says:

      Back in the early-mid 1800’s, way before the lots were broken into streets & Central Park exisited, there use to be a pretty large pond that existed where the current AMC movie theatre exists – the pond actually took up part of present day Broadway as well. Old surveying maps (those created by John Randle) indicate that the pond would stream down along West 84 Street and into the Hudson River. I was not around then, but if I had to guess , , , when they created the new ‘grid line’ for Manhattan and moved fill, the stream was not properly backfilled along the particular area in question (83/85 Streets). In essence you have a pocket of marsh land (cool, damp, and dark) beneath our city streets and buildings. I would not be surprised if a HUGE mosquito’s nest exists in this general area. I remember my friends always complaining about mosquitos in the early 70’s and the city’s Band-Aid attempts have not worked. It takes nothing but a small crevice to allow these critters to come in/out.

      I’d suggest the city (DEP) drill a 3″ boring hole down 60 feet into earth on West 84 Street. A small-diameter boring would allow a geologist or engineer to examine the soil or retrieve samples, in order to determine if such a nest exists.

      Good Luck!

      • Blervin says:

        This is amazing information and may well explain what is going on here. If this were the case, is there anything the city could do to fix the problem anyways? I am sure they wouldn’t do it regardless given the lack of concern for most problems, but I am still curious. I JUST moved to West 84th/RSD and this is the first I have heard of this. Not happy.

    17. Eddie says:

      I live nearby and have been lucky not to really be impacted, but that could change at any moment so I applaud the efforts of those trying to solve this dangerous problem. I know people who avoid that block when walking to the park for fear of being eaten up.

      Could residents of this block rally to “accidentally” knock over the fire hydrant in the darkness of night? Or take matters into their own hands in some other way?

    18. Jen says:

      How about contacting NY1?

    19. MosquitoSquad says:

      You can contact the W84th street MosquitoSquad at

    20. DG says:

      Would you like to have photos of huge welts (with blisters) that itch for a week? I had one just last week (not the first) and didn’t think to take a picture, but will do so the next time. I couldn’t believe it was a mosquito bite until I read this article.

    21. Emma Berdie says:

      I live on 84th with a roommate and have 2 giant welts on my face from last night’s visitors. And what do I do for a living? Oh right! I’m an actor, which means my face is incredibly important. This problem is really getting old. The buzzing in my ear at night is often the worst part because you know what’s coming the next day… ?

    22. Nora B says:

      I’ve been tortured by these miserable mosquitoes for the past five years and have tried many things to avoid being bitten all night. The best thing so far is using a fan to blow them away from my bed, plus using insect repellant at night. I’ve also noticed that these mosquitoes like to “sleep” on the walls during the day and they are relatively easy to kill when they are not flying.

    23. McCShamey says:

      These mosquitos are getting so hardy, they’ve even flown out of my refrigerator

    24. Donna says:

      I get chewed up regularly by Mosquitos – summer – spring – fall – winter- it doesn’t matter the season or how tightly closed my windows are- they somehow get in my apartment. I would be happy to sign a petition or anything else to get these bugs out of here! Neighrbors at 84th street, your neighbors at 83rd street would be more than happy to help out!