This story originally appeared on Houston Public Media.
Back in February, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner launched a program to clean up illegal dump sites across the city. The goal is to help reduce mosquito breeding grounds and try to slow the spread of diseases like the Zika virus.
The plan was developed by the City of Houston’s Department of Solid Waste Management. The clean-up is structured by districts. On March 5, a crew worked in District B, which includes neighborhoods in Northeast Houston.
Shawn Johnson, a senior superintendent with Solid Waste Management who was supervising the crew, explained that trash piling up is a problem because “when it rains, it holds the water, the mosquitoes, snakes…”
“It’s important that we clean the neighborhoods up,” Johnson says.
The city says mosquitoes can breed in something as small as a bottle of water, so large containers are even a bigger risk. In addition, Houston’s weather is conducive to a large population of mosquitoes, which can carry several diseases such as West Nile virus and Dengue. The latest concern though is the Zika virus, which has been linked to birth defects. As of March 4th, the City of Houston’s Health Department had five cases confirmed.
The trash the city’s crews clean up is a mixture of garbage bags, discarded furniture and food leftovers. There are also many tires that need to be picked up because they can also hold water.
The residents of the neighborhoods where the city is cleaning up are grateful because they are concerned about their health. Ruben Corona, a 50-year-old immigrant from Mexico who has lived in the United States since he was 15, says he’s worried about his family.
“It’s not just because of me, it’s also because of the children. People dump tires with water, that’s what the news say. They say to throw away all the containers that have water or to empty them or do something with them and not to have them there,” Corona says.
Corona believes most of the illegal dumping is done by people who don’t live in his neighborhood. However, Maria Montoya, who lives close to his house, says she’s not so sure. She thinks area residents may also be responsible for the dumping but, regardless of who’s at fault, she fears the potential consequences.
“The mosquito virus is gonna come,” Montoya says. “And we ain’t gonna know because, you know, you don’t feel it when they pick you.”
The city will continue the clean-up program in the coming months. The goal is to get as much done before the weather gets warmer and mosquito breeding can become more prevalent.
Armand Palmer, a 42-year-old warehouse worker, has lived in northeast Houston for more than 10 years. He hopes the city will maintain the program.
“If you stop, the problem comes right back. If you keep going, you won’t have that problem come back again. So, why stop? If it’s good, keep it rolling,” Palmer says.
City officials encourage residents to report illegal dumping by calling 311 and to use depositories and recycling centers.
To learn about where the depositories and recycling centers are located and what the requirements to use them are, you can visit the website for the Department of Solid Waste Management.