The Whats and Whys of Mosquito Abatement Districts

Do you know your Mosquito Abatement District? MPAC’s Ruth Kerzee sheds light on these mysterious, quasi-governmental agencies

When I was a kid, oh those many years ago, mosquito bites were a part and parcel of summer. No one seemed to give a hoot about them except for those unattractive, red itchy bites that sometimes kept you up at night.

Things have changed today.  First, the West Nile Virus spread in the 90s and early ‘00s, then the Chikungunya virus inched northward, and now the mosquitoes act as the vector (carrier and transferer) for the Zika virus scare.  It’s important to know that most people will not get sick even if infected with one of these viruses, but often it seems like you’re risking infection every time you walk out the door!

In response to this feeling of impending doom from mosquito borne diseases, we often get the urge to take personal action to control the situation and spray something in the backyard. But rest easy, kind but worried reader, others already do the hard work omosquito control in your stead. Trained scientists like entomologists who study insect biology full-time(!), and epidemiologists who research the spread and control of diseases at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) or your local health department work night and day to protect us from these dangers lurking in the great outdoors.  And, many of our communities have mosquito abatement districts that manage large adjacent areas to control mosquitoes: approximately 700 across the U.S.

Mosquito Abatement Districts (MADs) are mysterious, quasi-governmental agencies set up for the sole purpose of controlling mosquitoes. “Mysterious” because most people know very little about them or what they do. MADs keep a low profile, most have little or no online presence, and not every community has one. In the Midwest, Illinois, Michigan, and Minnesota have at least some of these districts, while Wisconsin and Indiana rely on local health departments or contracted service providers for mosquito control.

To dispel some of the mystery around MADs, let’s take a closer look at what they are and how they came to be. We initially created MADs to pool the resources of communities to “Fight the Bite” and provide a structure for funding those activities.  Illinois, a state with 20 MADs, passed the Mosquito Abatement District Act in 1927 giving Illinois citizens the right to petition for a MAD in a specific territory. The territory typically includes more than one community. Once established, the Act allows for the levy of up to 0.025% property tax to pay for the services. The four MADs in Cook County receive 0.01%, or $1 for every $100, of assessed property value. The funds are supposed to provide comprehensive mosquito control services within the district by paying for staff, salaries, trucks, insecticides, lab equipment, and seasonal workers.

Every MAD differs in size, shape, and approach to control.  While most take their cues from the CDC or local health department, each can provide as many or as few services as they want. In other words, the communities within the district determine the services provided by a MAD and the amount revenue raised to pay for these services.

When controlling mosquitoes, some MADs do area fogging for mosquitoes only after locally detecting a virus in a potential mosquito vector, some will fog just to reduce the nuisance of mosquitoes whether or not the disease is present, and some do no testing at all and rely on data available from other authorities.

In terms of size and staff, the North Shore MAD covers 13 municipalities with 9 full-time and 20 seasonal staff, whereas others contract out all services to private companies. Of the 20 Illinois MAD, just five have websites that provide information directly to the public such as schedules for control activities and access to reports.

In Minnesota, only one MAD exists, the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District that services the Twin Cities Metro-Area, and only four districts operate in Michigan. Both states like Illinois fund the districts through property taxes. Unlike Illinois, all MN and MI districts have robust websites for the public to review their activities.

MPAC recommends getting to know your Mosquito Abatement/Control District. Many provide useful information on how to protect yourself and loved ones from mosquito bites. Some MADs will post sampling information that reveals the threat of disease, methods used for control, and even a schedule of larviciding (treatment of standing water for mosquito larva) or adulticiding (fogging for adult mosquitoes). If you don’t have a MAD or similar district but want to find out what’s happening in your community, your municipal website is the best place to start or call your local health department.

Here are some other resources from the Midwest Pesticide Action Center on how to “Fight the Bite”:

West Nile Virus and Your Community

Prevent Mosquitoes in Your Backyard

Forgo the Fog: Alternatives to Mosquito Fogging

Zika: Beware the Scare


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