As Zika concerns grow, NJ town tears down pools on abandoned properties
In an effort to reduce the population of mosquitoes that could possibly carry the Zika virus, officials in Middlesex County are entering abandoned properties to empty swimming pools and eliminate sources of standing water that could be a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Woodbridge Mayor John McCormac said the in-ground and above ground pools at abandoned homes are not only prime real estate for mosquitoes to breed, but they also present a safety risk, since children can find their way onto the property and fall into these pools.
“Beyond lowering the value of neighboring homes, abandoned and distressed properties cause significant losses in property tax revenue, generate other economic costs for the Township, and represent a real safety issue," McCormac said in a statement. "In addition, many properties have abandoned swimming pools and other areas that are prime breeding areas for mosquitoes. The Township is taking a pro-active approach and is moving to eliminate any/all potential mosquito breeding areas on all abandoned properties.”
Woodbridge has targeted at least 10 properties with abandoned pools. As of last week, two pools had been drained and demolished and eight additional polls were scheduled for draining and demolition this week, the mayor said. Officials are also asking residents to contact town hall if they know of any additional abandoned properties where pools or standing water are concerns.
In all, the Woodbridge Redevelopment Agency has notified 35 abandoned and vacated property owners that they have 45 days to respond "with a plan to sell, rehabilitate or otherwise return the property to productive use," the mayor's office said.
Woodbridge officials did not respond to a request for comment on how many pools have been drained, the cost to taxpayers in the township and whether liens for those properties will be obtained.
As concerns about Zika continue in the Garden State, health officials said last month that New Jersey is one of just a few states with the capacity to test residents’ blood samples for the mosquito-borne virus.
Testing in the state is underway for pregnant women who have traveled overseas, as well as men who have traveled and have a partner who is thinking about becoming pregnant. Zika is primarily a concern for pregnant women, health officials say, since the virus can lead to a serious birth defect of the brain known as microcephaly.
Most people infected with Zika won’t show symptoms, but the most common ones include fever, rash, joint pain or conjunctivitis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In general, the illness is mild and very rarely fatal, the CDC states.
There are 20 confirmed cases of Zika in New Jersey, all of which are related to travel, according to the NJ Department of Health.
Toniann Antonelli is a social content producer for NJ 101.5. She can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter @ToniRadio1015.