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State officials Monday began aerial spraying of the pesticide malathion over southeastern Massachusetts in an effort to wipe out disease-carrying mosquitoes. Thousands of acres will be doused with the insecticide in an effort to prevent the spread of Easter equine encephalitis. No human cases of the virus have been reported in Massachusetts since 1984, but authorities said the potential dangers associated with the disease made it necessary to resort to the use of pesticides.

The insecticide is expected to wipe out 90 percent of the area's adult mosquito population. Another pesticide will be used on the ground to attack mosquito larvae, says Diane Baedeker of the Department of Food and Agriculture.

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Local residents and the Massachusetts Audubon Society have expressed concern over the spraying. Although health officials said the pesticide posed no threat to humans, they urged southeastern Massachusettts residents to keep children and pets indoors, and keep their windows closed for two to three hours after the spraying.

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