MARATHON, Fla. – It's meeting day at the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District in Marathon, and Mila Demier and other residents are voicing their concerns.
"I pay taxes. I work here. I live here," Demier said. "I have the right to choose if I want to be (part of) this or not."
She's opposed to a new trial that would release millions of genetically modified male mosquitoes into neighborhoods in Key Haven to control the Aedes Aegypti mosquito, which carries dengue fever and the chikungunya and Zika viruses.
"What we want to run this trial for is to be sure that we can control the mosquitoes down to a limit like has been done at other countries," Phil Goodman, chairman of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District, told Local 10 News.
Goodman said the genetically modified male mosquitoes mate with the wild females and the offspring die before adulthood.
The genetically modified mosquitoes are made by British biotech company Oxitec. Last month, the Food and Drug Administration found that such a study would have no significant impact.
Pending final approval from the FDA, the mosquitos would be reared in a small lab at the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District before their release in Key Haven.
"There's about a thousand males per pot, and those males disappear," Derric Nimmo, Ph.D., of Oxitec, said.
But some residents said they don't want an experiment in their own backyards.
Demier started a Change.org petition, which has more than 166,000 signatures.
"(We're) telling mosquito control and telling the FDA that we don't want to be guinea pigs," Demier said.
She said there's no way to know the long-term effects the bugs could have. Proponents argue the fear is misplaced.
"I don't think people should be afraid of it," Nimmo said. "If anything, they should be more worried about things like dengue, Zika and chikungunya."