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Reno firm a global leader in mosquito control

Dan McGee
info@nnbw.biz

Arid Nevada is as close to mosquito-free as anyplace in America.

It’s no small irony, then, that Arro-Gun Spray Systems, a respected maker of gasoline and electric foggers used by vector-control agencies worldwide, is headquartered in Lemmon Valley on the north edge of Reno.

Dan Ariaz, the company’s founder, travels the world to meet with experts who fight to control mosquitoes, fleas, ticks, no-see-ums — all the insects that fall into the category of vectors that can transmit diseases to humans or animals.

Ariaz’ expertise on vector control has been sought out by groups such as the World Health Organization and the American Mosquito Control Association, the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine and the Pasteur Institute.

Ariaz was the first person without a college degree in the discipline to be elected as president of the American Mosquito Control Association. And in 2009 the association awarded him its Medal of Honor, which he considers his most treasured award.

Arro-Gun Spray Systems and a sister company, BioRational Vector Control LLC, have their roots in work that Ariaz began when he was a vector-control specialist with the Washoe County government.

In 1979, Ariaz recalls, a fogger used by county workers to control mosquitoes failed.

“I got permission to take the truck home and had it running in about an hour,” Ariaz said.

The ability to fix things proving more important than a college degree, Ariaz took on ever-greater roles with the county’s vector-control program.

He realized, for instance, that the county needed equipment to spread larvicides across a wide area. So he built one in his garage that used the same power source as a fogger and could use the same vehicle.

“It was two barrels that sucked material out of the hopper in a pre-conceived pattern then blew it out onto a field, an Arro-Gun,” he said. “Washoe County was the first to utilize that.”

He gave the equipment to the county, but retained rights to the technology that he patented.

Ariaz also took a leading role in the development of environmentally sound chemicals for mosquito control, an important consideration to protect species that live along the Truckee River and in wetlands in Washoe County.

As word spread about the equipment that Ariaz developed for the county and his interest in biological controls, other companies came here to test their products — providing them for free for the county’s use.

The result put Washoe County at the cutting edge of vector control.

“It was a windfall for Washoe County because we didn’t have any money to do any of the controls but we were getting support,” Ariaz says.

When he retired from the county government, Ariaz and his wife, Pat, established the two companies — Arro-Gun to manufacture and market equipment, BioRational Vector Control to provide consulting services and sales to international markets. (Pat Ariaz — better known as “PJ” — died in 2010.)

Arro-Gun’s product line, manufactured under contract by a Texas company, ranges from small hand-held foggers to large gasoline- and electric-powered units mounted on trucks, all-terrain vehicles or amphibious watercraft.

A new product line applies a non-toxic larvicide into the beaches at resort areas, providing control of annoying sand flies.

“I started essentially with what was in my pocket and within a number of years the thing became very successful,” Ariaz says.

BioRational Vector Control today is headed by another retired county employee, Scott Monson.

Ariaz designed the company’s products to be easily operated, even by low-skill workers. Pictures are used extensively in the instructional materials, for instance, and equipment doesn’t require complex setting of dials to deliver chemicals.

But the simple technology is based on extensive science.

Ariaz says BioRational Vector Control and Arro-Gun relies on the work of more than 20 biologists, many of them graduates of the University of Nevada, Reno.

And a foundation established by Ariaz sends college students to study environmental issues around the globe and develop real-world solutions.

Arro-Gun and BioRational, both of which rely heavily on contractors and keep their overhead low, weathered the global financial crisis.

“I don’t need a lot of money to continue running and was very fortunate that we weren’t spending money when we didn’t have it coming in,” Ariaz says.

Demand now is beginning to rebound, he says, but he continues to keep a wary eye on all the storm clouds that threaten the world’s economies.