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'I Got Showered With This Mist': Photojournalist Describes Naled Exposure

Carl Juste, a Miami Herald photographer, was exposed to the pesticide Naled while photographing a mosquito control plane over Miami Beach on Sept. 18. Naled is being used to kill mosquitoes that can carry the Zika virus.
Kyle Holsten
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Miami Herald photographer Carl Juste wanted the best possible shot of the mosquito control plane that was aerially spraying Miami Beach.

So just before 6 a.m. on Sunday, Sept. 18, he drove to the top of the parking garage on Collins Avenue and 16th Street, got out of his car and started taking pictures.

"You got a white plane and the black sky, and then there's a little tiny mist behind it," he said. "I could see the plane going back and forth, east to west, west to east."

Juste was surprised to see the plane fly across Miami Beach. Officials had said the plane would fly parallel to the barrier island and allow the wind to blow the pesticide over the area.

"By the time it reached maybe around 12th Street, 13th Street, it dawned on me: it may fly within a block or slightly overhead."

Justedidn't move, though. He was still trying to get the picture.

"I'm just like, OK, let me focus. Get one good frame."

The plane passed over the Royal Palm resort -- half a block from where Juste was standing. He felt the mist and immediately began to cough.

"A tickle, then a little cough, then a big cough and a little tickle," he said. "It was a slight cough that kind of grew."

Naled, he added, tastes like roach spray. It made his eyes water.

Juste lingered on top of the garage -- about six stories off the ground -- for a few more minutes to see if the plane would return. When it didn't, he and a student who was with him went to a nearby church that had been opened for homeless people during the spraying. Then, he went to Starbucks to grab breakfast.

"The first thing I went and did is wash my hands."

By that time, Juste had a headache -- "almost like a hangover." His mouth felt unusually dry, the taste of Naled lingering.

He had another assignment at 9 a.m., so it was almost 11 a.m. before he could take a shower.

"That's when the nausea started hitting me more."

The headache persisted into Monday; the nausea remained until Tuesday. Juste also says he felt cold-like symptoms.

That doesn't surprise Dr. Aileen Marty, a Florida International University infectious disease specialist who's worked with the World Health Organization on controlling Zika.

"They use a very well-designed device to produce a very, very low, ultra-low volume spray" of Naled,  she said. But, "the closer you are to the release, the higher the chance that you'll get a higher amount on you."

Juste said the plane was 100 to 200 feet above him -- which he said he knew was less than the official recommendation of 300 feet.

"I didn't do the smartest thing."

Marty said being too close to spraying can be especially problematic for people who are sensitive to chemicals. Even if they follow official guidelines, they may experience symptoms like the ones Juste did.

"That’s why, when something like this is going to be sprayed in an area where there’s going to be people, you’re always going to have alerts so that people stay indoors," she said.

But, Marty added, Naled dissipates quickly. Depending on moisture and sunlight, it has a half-life of about an hour. That means half the original amount goes away within an hour, and 75 percent is gone within two hours.

"I don't go out at 5 in the morning," said Marty, who's a Miami Beach resident. "By the time I go outside, it's several hours later and I know that whatever residual... is going to be so low that there's no chance I could be affected."

Juste never went to see a doctor for his symptoms.

"I was not spouting blood or vomiting," he said. "It's not really that urgent; it's more of a nuisance."

Still, he says, he'll try to avoid future exposure to early morning Naled spraying.

"I hope people understand that this is not the time to walk out on the street," he said. "The chemical's no joke." 

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Kate Stein can't quite explain what attracts her to South Florida. It's more than just the warm weather (although this Wisconsin native and Northwestern University graduate definitely appreciates the South Florida sunshine). It has a lot to do with being able to travel from the Everglades to Little Havana to Brickell without turning off 8th Street. It's also related to Stein's fantastic coworkers, whom she first got to know during a winter 2016 internship.Officially, Stein is WLRN's environment, data and transportation journalist. Privately, she uses her job as an excuse to rove around South Florida searching for stories à la Carl Hiaasen and Edna Buchanan. Regardless, Stein speaks Spanish and is always thrilled to run, explore and read.