A public health official from Arizona recently contacted the Network to ask what legal authority Arizona state (or local) government has to abate public health nuisances, specifically related to potential breeding sites for disease-carrying mosquitoes.
A public nuisance may be generally defined as “an unreasonable interference with a right common to the general public.” Public nuisances can negatively impact community health when the use of property presents clear and obvious health risks for others. However, so long as government follows statutory or regulatory procedures, it may abate (or eliminate) public health nuisances to protect the public’s health.
Arizona state law authorizes abatement of nuisances dangerous to public health, including “[a]ny condition or place in populous areas that constitutes a breeding place for flies, rodents, mosquitoes and other insects that are capable of carrying and transmitting disease-causing organisms to any person or persons (emphasis added).” State health authorities can order the removal or destruction of a public health nuisance in two primary ways.
If an owner or occupant denies entrance onto private property to abate a nuisance, any county board of health member or health department officer may issue a complaint to a justice of the peace. The justice can issue a warrant permitting the county sheriff or other peace officer to accompany health officials to the property to abate the nuisance. The owner or occupant of the property must pay all relevant expenses.
In addition to state-based abatement powers, Maricopa County Environmental Health officers can follow the same or similar procedures under local laws. Maricopa County’s Environmental Health Code does not specifically lay out conditions to be declared “public health nuisances,” but does require individuals to take all necessary and proper steps to eliminate mosquito breeding sites, including unnecessary accumulations of water.
Finally, specific abatement powers and processes may be altered pursuant to formal declarations of emergency or public health emergency by Arizona’s Governor. These declarations may allow enhanced use of these powers pursuant to temporary waivers of some existing legal requirements for the duration of the emergency.
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