Buying time | BrainerdDispatch.com | Brainerd, Minnesota

Buying time

Although bio-pesticide likely years away, scientist is optimistic it can be used in some form, some day to combat zebra mussels

Posted: September 16, 2011 - 7:05pm
Daniel Molloy, with a photo of zebra mussels on a screen behind him, talked zebra mussels control Tuesday at the Ideal Town Hall in Ideal Township.  Brainerd Dispatch/Brian S. Peterson
Brainerd Dispatch/Brian S. Peterson
Daniel Molloy, with a photo of zebra mussels on a screen behind him, talked zebra mussels control Tuesday at the Ideal Town Hall in Ideal Township.

IDEAL TOWNSHIP — A year ago, there was a good chance that few if any of the folks who packed Ideal Town Hall late Tuesday afternoon had ever heard of Daniel Molloy.

Now, and even well before Tuesday’s gathering, many knew of him, of what he might be able to bring to the Whitefish Area Property Owners Association and their beloved Whitefish Chain.

As in hope. That’s what those in attendance seemed to be looking for from Molloy, a scientist from New York state, as the Brainerd lakes area continues to look for ways to combat the infestation of zebra mussels.

But Molloy isn’t selling hope. He isn’t selling anything, he insists. Rather, he is buying time.

“Within 100 years, all of these lakes (in Minnesota) will have zebra mussels. Within 100 years all the lakes will have had zebra mussels enter them and become established,” Molloy said. “However, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that within 100 years there will be major advances in controlling this foe that are environmentally safe and economical to use. If we can slow it down maybe there will be a product to eradicate them.”

Such as Zequanox, perhaps.

Molloy, 63, spent several days in the Brainerd lakes area with WAPOA, a member of Minnesota Waters, as part of Minnesota Waters Week “celebrating citizen engagement.” A research scientist and adjunct professor at the State University of New York in Albany, Molloy has spent the last 20 years studying and targeting zebra mussels and is the inventor of Zequanox, a bio-pesticide with promise for the environmentally safe control of zebra mussels. He also served as director of the New York State Museum’s Field Research Laboratory, but recently left to found a consulting firm specializing in spreading the word on the control of zebra mussels. 

“This bio-pesticide has never been tested in open waters. Just power plants,” Molloy said. “The purpose (of Tuesday’s presentation and the like) is not to push a commercial product. I’ll make no money from this. My purpose is to convey information. It’s a public service.”

Developed 20 years ago by Molloy, Zequanox is a strain of bacteria that’s toxic to zebra and quagga mussels. Research shows it’s safe for native mussels, fish, waterfowl and people. Power companies are already using the product in high concentrations to keep water intake pipes free of the invasive mussels. But further research is needed, Molloy said, to learn if it’s also effective when diluted throughout a lake and whether it can be made available for large-scale use. Lake associations in Douglas County and on Lake Minnetonka were part of a research project that previously looked into the use of Zequanox to fight zebra mussels in lakes there.

A year ago, zebra mussels were a concern for Brainerd area lake associations. But with their discovery in Gull Lake last October, that concern level increased dramatically. The Gull Chain of Lakes Association has spent tens of thousands of dollars attempting to combat zebra mussels on Gull and other lake associations also have stepped up the battle, including WAPOA. Tuesday’s gathering drew a packed house of about 80 to Ideal Town Hall.

So far, there have been no reports of zebra mussels in the Whitefish Chain.

“I saw no evidence of zebra mussels in that lake body,” Molloy said Tuesday after spending time on the Whitefish Chain just hours earlier, as well as earlier in the week.

But Zequanox won’t keep zebra mussels from infesting the Whitefish Chain — or any other lake for that matter. At least not for a while.

“As far away as within a year or two after the research is done, which determines how to use it safely,” Molloy said of the earliest Zequanox could be introduced into a body of water. “Research needs to be done to see how it can be used, and affordably, but it’s not next year. Maybe it’s not economical to use it at all. Power plants have money. Lake associations don’t have as much money. I don’t know if it will happen. I think it will be used in limited fashion. But I’m very optimistic that the environmental cost will be very low.

“Minnesota Waters is trying to organize this kind of testing. It takes money to do research. Nothing will be used in an entire lake. Economically, that’s not feasible. It could be used in bays or live wells could be treated with it. We won’t know until more research is done.”

Besides research, Molloy preached common sense on the part of boat owners.

“If you believe stopping the spread isn’t worth it, I disagree with you strongly,” he said, urging boat owners to do their part to keep zebra mussels at bay, including thoroughly washing boats before and after entering a waterway. “This is not a joke. Being the eyes and ears to spread the word of being responsible boat users is effective and buys time.”

 

BRIAN S. PETERSON may be reached at brian.peterson@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5864. To follow him on Twitter, go to www.twitter.com/brian_speterson. For his blogs, go to www.brainerddispatch.com.