The NFPA created a safety sheet which listed some environmental hazards to be aware of while completing Firewise landscape maintenance including rattle snakes, Africanized bees and poison ivy for Wildfire Community Preparedness Day project activities. Kent Nelson Forest Ranger Specialist/Excess Property Manager with the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Maine Forest Service shared with the NFPA’s Wildland Division caution information about a very small harmless looking invasive species, the Browntail moth. According to the Maine Forest Service web site the insect was accidentally introduced from Europe into Massachusetts in 1897 and has spread throughout the New England states.
The caterpillar of this moth likes to eat foliage from hardwood trees such as oak trees, but also likes to feed in fruit trees such as apple and cherry. The main concern of this invasive insect is the tiny poisonous (setae) hairs that can cause dermatitis and other serious allergic reactions in people who are sensitive to the toxin. The Massachusetts State Forestry web page lists precautions that should be taken to lessen your risk of exposure to these poisonous insect hairs while you are working outside, including:
- Wear protective gear such as gloves, goggles, respirators or masks and coveralls when working outside on such projects as weed whacking, mowing raking etc.
- Perform tasks outdoors on damp days or wet down the area where you will be working.
- Avoid places with high levels of infestation.
- Take cool showers and change your clothes if you have been working outside around this insect.
- Dry laundry inside during the summer months to limit exposure of clothes to the insect hairs.
- Consult a physician immediately if you or someone else experiences a severe reaction to exposure of the caterpillar hairs.
Be aware of hazards while you enjoy working outside on wildfire hazard mitigation projects to ensure your safety and the safety of others participating in your community project.