On the day we conducted this interview with Sam Dickson, PhD, he was two weeks from the day to retirement from Salt Lake Mosquito Abatement District. We wanted to learn and share a little about where the mosquito control industry has been and where it’s going. Sam is definitely the expert to talk to, having worked at Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District since 1978. When asked how he landed in the industry, Sam says, “Some people want to grow up to be a doctor or a fireman; no one ever says I want to grow up and control mosquitoes.” But that’s just what Sam grew up to do – after being required by a college professor and mentor to gain practical experience – and he couldn’t be more pleased with his life’s course.

May 22, 1978 was Sam’s first day at Salt Lake Mosquito Abatement District. He worked for five years as a seasonal employee, was hired full time in 1983 and became director in 1987. When Sam started, organophosphates were the main products used to treat larvae and adults. While they were effective at killing mosquitoes, he recalls they also proved effective at killing everything else in the water. “When I took over as director, I made the commitment that all larval treatments in the water would be done with bacterial insecticide. We used BTI from then on and almost immediately we noticed the marsh was alive again. It was a night and day difference with using bacteria.” Sam believes the move to bacterial larvicides hugely changed the industry and it remains a highpoint of his career.

The other major industry change Sam cites in his career has been the increase in disease. In the beginning, Sam says, the goal was to control nuisance mosquitoes to make life more comfortable. But when West Nile Virus hit Utah in 2003, it changed the way the industry performed mosquito control, namely through surveillance and adulticiding. Further, budgets grew drastically to accommodate the manpower needed. When Sam began working at the district, there were a total of four employees and five to six seasonal employees. Today, his district employs ten full time and 25 seasonal employees. And the district’s budget has grown ten times larger than it was when Sam began his career at Salt Lake City Mosquito Abatement District.

Sam notes his greatest accomplishment is the state-of-the-art facility his district built in 1992. The district had been operating from an old army signal hut made of packing crates, where pesticides were stored in buildings with no containment. The new facility was designed for pesticide storage for primary and secondary containment, with temperature and climate control allowing bacteria to be stored for long periods of time and the ability to update the district’s older equipment. Sam says the most rewarding part of the upgraded facility was the ability “to do so much more to protect the health of citizens. It gave people a lot of protection and a much better quality of life.”

When asked about the greatest challenges facing mosquito control agencies today, Sam responds that while Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus haven’t yet reached Utah due to the cold winters, he believes climate change will alter that. “It will take a huge amount of manpower to go door to door to control these species. If we get these two species, Zika will come. And continuing funding to control it will be challenging.”

It is Sam’s hope that the industry will continue to develop more and more products, as bacterial products used to treat mosquitoes in the water can only be used so long before resistance occurs. This is where he says, “Companies like ADAPCO® [who support mosquito control] are invaluable.”

When reflecting on his career, Sam says, “It’s a secret that mosquito control is the best job in the world. It’s been a great, satisfying job. As the years go by, you have seasonal employees who are young and they invigorate you a bit.”

Sam feels confident that Salt Lake Mosquito Abatement District will be invigorated as he passes the baton to the new director.

Sam Dickson

 

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