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Two environmentalists helm the pro-spray brigade

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Here in the final weeks of a hotly contested election, East Nashville resident Sharp Emmons couldn't have been too surprised to find the word "idiot" scribbled on both sides of his yard sign. Except that Emmons wasn't supporting Bush or Kerry—he was exercising his First Amendment rights in favor of, well, pesticide use. Emmons has a "Spray Twice" sign outside his house, a retaliation of sorts against the "No Spray" signs that proliferated among the environmentally sensitive earth biscuit set last year after the Metro Health Department began spraying to reduce the mosquito population.

Already, the city has collected mosquitoes that have tested positive for the West Nile Virus in all four parts of Davidson County, adding spark to Emmons' unusual indignation against the "No Spray" movement.

"We're mocking their whole thought process," says Emmons, who works in marketing for a financial services company. "They do have valid concerns, but there are more problems with West Nile. My stance is that there's no reason for amnesty for an insect that carries a disease."

If only John Kerry could speak as cogently.

Emmons and his friend, Chris Heric, also of East Nashville, started printing the "Spray Twice" signs earlier this year after joking about the uselessness of the "No Spray" chorus. Heric and Emmons aren't exactly dreamers, and to them, the "No Spray" signs were about as practical as voting for Nader. In fact, Heric, anyway, doesn't think that spraying for mosquitoes is the best way to deal with the West Nile virus either—he just thinks there are more valid causes to support. And, no, he doesn't exactly desire a double dose of insecticide.

"I'm just trying to point out the futility of the 'No Spray' campaign," says Heric, a publishing systems consultant. "I don't disagree with their point, but unless we have widespread adoption of the 'No Spray' campaign, I don't see how putting up the signs will do much good."

According to Metro Health Department spokesperson Brian Todd, the trucks dispensing the insecticide will try to heed the requests of homeowners with the "No Spray" signs. Still, Metro prefers that the spray-averse individuals call the city or log onto the health department's Web site. In any case, the spray drifts up to 500 feet anyway, so it's difficult to prevent the chemical from creeping into the airspace of those who object unless nearly everyone in their neighborhoods has opted out of the program.

But Rachel Sumner, an organizer in the No Spray Coalition, says that the signs are a broader show of opposition against the

Metro Health Department's mosquito policy. In some countries, they protest torture, war and genocide. In Nashville, the battle is over pest control. "It's a political statement," Sumner says of the "No Spray" signs. "If we can get a lot of people on this list, it will show the health department that the public is displeased with their policies."

Besides, Sumner says that in her Bellevue neighborhood, about a third of all residents have joined the "No Spray" brigade. So if Metro does spray in her part of town, there will be less of it drifting into the yards of homeowners who don't want it.

Sumner says spraying is far from innocuous. After all, Metro does warn homeowners to stay inside while their property is being targeted and to remain inside for at least 30 minutes. Clearly, this stuff is a little stronger than Deep Woods Off. The Health Department counters that they monitor emergency room visits for respiratory ailments and they don't increase in the wake of widespread spraying, although Sumner says some side effects might be harder to track.

Oddly, Heric and Emmons don't really argue with any of Sumner's concerns. They just think that in the grand scheme of things, erecting a "No Spray" sign in your yard is all talk and no action. "We feel there are better ways to truly help the environment than to hope the truck won't spray for the two seconds it's in front of your house," Heric says.

"I'm a very, very green person," adds Emmons. "I recycle, I commute on my bike—but amnesty for insects is not the answer here. My take is if you're going to protest spray, I'll protest your protest."

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