Albany Leads Opposition to Aerial Spraying in Alameda County

By Judith Scherr
Friday January 18, 2008

Posted 1/19—While Albany is preparing to take an aggressive stand in opposition to aerial spaying intended to eradicate the light brown apple moth—epiphyas postvitattana—Berkeley has adopted a wait-and-see attitude. 

“We don’t really have enough information,” said Dr. Linda Rudolph, the city’s public health officer. The city will know more after state officials make their presentation to the City Council, rescheduled from Jan. 15 to Feb. 26. 

The state will make a presentation at the Albany City Council meeting this Tuesday. Also on the Albany agenda is a resolution by Mayor Robert Lieber, opposing aerial spraying of the moth. The meeting begins at 8 p.m. at 1000 San Pablo Ave. 

Albany is taking a proactive stance. “We don’t want to wait and have only two weeks advance notice of the spraying,” said Nan Wishner, chair of the Albany Integrated Pest Management Task Force.  

The state had originally planned to spray in the Berkeley area beginning in March, though Steve Lyle, spokesperson for the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), said the state has not determined if or when it will spray in Alameda County. 

In a phone interview Friday, Lyle called the invasion of the moth, a native of Australia, a “significant national threat.” Total eradication is necessary because of the moth’s ability to spread quickly, dining on a variety of some 2,000 host plants, Lyle told the Planet in a phone interview Friday. It could spread to 80 percent of the country, he said. 

The state conducted aerial spraying in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties in the fall. A public outcry followed, with hundreds of people complaining to the CDFA that the spraying had made them ill. Symptoms included asthma attacks, bronchial irritation, coughing, skin rashes, nausea and more. 

Lyle, however, said he had stood with the California Secretary of Agriculture A.G. Kawamura beneath the planes as they sprayed and neither suffered adverse effects. 

The process as Lyle described it, is an aerial spraying of synthetic pheromones, which are scents designed to confuse the male moths to keep them from mating.  

When sprayed from the air, the pheromones are contained in microcapsules with other inert ingredients. 

“You can breathe them in and they disintegrate in the lungs,” said Albany Mayor Lieber, a registered nurse. “It’s a public health issue.” 

Paul Schramski of Sacramento-based Pesticide Watch told the Planet Friday that the concern is not with the pheromones themselves, as long as they are used in traps on the ground. In fact, he said he supports their use as part of an integrated pest management process, where the least amount of harmful substances are used.  

The problem is that when the pheromones are delivered through aerial spraying, potentially harmful ingredients including formaldehydes and isocynates are used. 

The inert ingredients “have not been proved safe or effective,” Schramski said. 

“The pesticide mixture is packaged in minute plastic capsules that are inhaled by anyone exposed to the spray,” wrote Wishner in a January 2008 report, “Aerial Pesticide Spraying the East Bay for the LBAM.” 

Speaking to the Planet Friday, Wishner said the state is able to go directly to spraying, rather than using other means such as cleaning up debris by trees and bringing in natural predators and parasites. The CDFA declared a “state of emergency,” which means it does not have to do an Environmental Impact Report, which would show the need for spraying and allow for the public to comment on the issue. 

The city and county of Santa Cruz, among others, are suing the CDFA for failing to do an EIR. The suit is pending. 

“There has been no reported quantifiable damage done by the LBAM in Santa Cruz County,” wrote Daniel Harder, executive director of the Arboretum of UC Santa Cruz, in his expert testimony as part of the Santa Cruz lawsuit. “In other areas of the globe, such as New Zealand, the only real threat LBAM presents is the imposition caused by export regulations for products like apples,” he wrote. 

Lyle, however, said the infestation has the potential of seriously harming California’s grape crop. 

The Albany resolution says, in part, that “aerial and other blanket pesticide applications have repeatedly been shown in the past to upset natural ecosystem balance in unpredictable and often catastrophic ways and … have repeatedly been shown in the past to cause unintended, unpredictable and often serious human health effects.”  

It calls on the state CDFA to protect the health and welfare of the residents of Alameda County and to conduct a long-term study of the health and environmental effects of the aerial sprayings that took place in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. 

The resolution also “supports the introduction and passage of state legislation requiring explicit consent of affected residents before any aerial spraying program can be implemented.” 

A community meeting on the aerial spraying question will be held Jan. 30, 7:30 p.m. at the Center for Environmental Health, 528 61st St., Oakland.