Police Use Chemical Spray to Kill Swarm in UWS Playground

By Trevor KappNatalie Musumeci and Aidan Gardiner  on August 15, 2014 3:32pm  | Updated on August 18, 2014 8:51am

UPPER WEST SIDE — Police sprayed household insecticide into a swarm that had collected in a West 92nd Street children's playgound, killing dozens of wasps, officials and the former department bee expert said.

Officers with the 24th Precinct, responding to a call from the Parks Department, cleared the Sol Bloom Playground of children and then fumigated the insects with a pesticide spray purchased from Duane Reade, Det. Marc Nell said.

Witnesses added that police donning protective masks entered the park near Columbus Avenue at approximately 11 a.m. Friday afternoon and temporarily told park-goers to leave the area.

“They started spraying all over. Once they sprayed, a bunch of bees started coming out [of the bushes],” said Marisol Ortiz, 51. “It was crazy. I just saw dots of yellow. It was scary.”

More than four hours after the police sprayed the bugs, Parks Department officials arrived with caution tape, and tied off a portion of the park between the fence and the jungle gym.

"At no time were cops wearing masks and at no time were the children exposed to the spray," Nell said.

The Parks Department did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Parents whose children were playing in the park after the spray, but before it was roped off by Parks workers said they were concerned that authorities sprayed the substance where children play.

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“I’m going to keep my distance. It’s not safe. You don’t want a child near chemicals,” said Flo Lynah, 28, who was at the playground Friday with her 6-year-old stepson.

City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal said that the spray was non-toxic to humans.

"The bee hive was near playground and thought to be potentially dangerous to kids," the councilwoman said. "Parks Department brought a can of (over-the-counter) insect repellant and NYPD sprayed."

The spray comes a week after NYPD bee expert Tony Planakis announced his retirement, putting an end to a career in which he collected millions of bees that had swarmed outside their hive.

But Planakis said he would have done the same thing in this instance.

"They're carnivores, my friend," he said.

When the weather turns colder, the yellow jackets start to forage agressively for food, like sugary snacks that get discarded in children's playgrounds.

"Whoever did this, did the right thing," Planakis said. "It's like seeing a zebra in the middle of Manhattan. You got to take care of it."

Det. Nell could not say if the NYPD had a full-time replacement for Planakis, a.k.a. Tony Bees, but said members of the Emergency Services Unit had been trained to handle swarms in his absence.

"ESU was called to the scene, but the bees had already been taken care of," the detective said. "They decided to use the chemical spray so that no one would get hurt."

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