Council Calls for Full Court Press to Stop Spray

By Judith Scherr
Tuesday February 26, 2008

Posted Wed., Feb. 27—The state secretary of agriculture failed to convince the Berkeley City Council Tuesday night that aerial spraying of a pesticide to eradicate the Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM) is either necessary or benign.  

With the support of some five dozen anti-spray constituents packing the meeting room, the council voted not only to join neighboring cities in statements of opposition to the spray, but said it is likely to take its opposition to court to prevent the state from moving forward with its plans. 

The council will meet in closed session March 17 to discuss a range of legal options that could include a multi-city lawsuit against the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) to halt the spraying planned for August in Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, Marin, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. 

Councilmember Dona Spring took on CDFA Secretary A.G. Kawamura, who had come to the meeting to tout the spray plan.  

“I suggest, sir, that you don’t protect public health by ramming [the spray] down the throat of the population,” she said, further asking why an environmental impact report was being written after the spraying was to be have begun. The EIR, being written by the CDFA, is expected to be completed in the fall. 

Kawamura, accompanied by two highway patrol officers posted at the back of the Council Chambers, spoke to what he said was an urgent need to confront the threat of the Light Brown Apple Moth. 

“This moth is voracious,” he said, arguing that because the moth is known to feed on some 250 different food crops it is a major concern for the state’s agribusiness. 

The moth has multiplied rapidly over a brief period of time, which is why no actual crop damage has been reported in California, he told the council. “People say, ‘let us see the damage.’ But we’re trying to prevent the damage,” he said.  

If the state sprays before the infestation grows, total eradication is possible; if not, it could spread all over California, the U.S. and beyond, he argued. 

After Kawamura’s presentation, in a brief interview with the secretary, the Planet asked for specifics on who had advocated for the spray. Kawamura responded that officials in 48 states feared an infestation from California. Pressed for documentation, he said he was contacted personally by the officials.  

“There are no letters,” he said. “I see them at meetings.”  

Similarly, Kawamura said there are no written requests from the various county officials who had approached him. He also said that citrus growers had not made the request.  

“The public obligation to our department is to protect human health … and the food supply,” he told the Planet. 

At issue is the spraying of CheckMate, a pesticide made by Suterra LLC, that consists of a synthetic pheromone which causes mating disruption in the LBAM. When sprayed by air, the pheromone is contained in a microcapsule with inert ingredients. 

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has told the Planet through spokespeople that he has faith in the decision of the CDFA to spray. He said that the $144,000 contribution to him by the owner of Suterra, Stewart Resnick, did not influence his view of spray plans. 

The aerial spray was used for the first time in an urban area in September when sprayed over four days in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.  

After Kawamura and a colleague spoke to the Berkeley council in favor of the spray, opponents were given time to respond. Nan Wishner, chair of the integrated pest management task force in Albany, spoke of the 600 Monterey-Santa Cruz area residents who experienced health problems after the September spray. Albany went on record in January opposing the spray.  

While the state representatives said the microcapsule would not cause harm if ingested, Wishner noted, “There were severe respiratory effects” in Monterey and Santa Cruz after the spraying.  

Panelist Dr. Elisa Song, pediatrician and environmental medicine specialist, added that there have been no long-term studies on the effects of CheckMate. She further explained the effects would be different for different people: Some people can’t eliminate toxins from their bodies, while others can, she said.  

“There can be major health consequences,” she said. 

Tom Kelly, former member of the city’s Health Commission, spoke as the third member of the panel, urging the council not to allow the CDFA to “drown out our voices.”  

He pointed to the possible contamination of Berkeley creeks and reminded the council that the city is bound by the principles of Integrated Pest Management and the precautionary principle, where nontoxic or the least toxic substances are used for pest management when deemed necessary at all. 

Kelly urged the council to oppose the spray, “confronting the power of the state.” 

Some 40 speakers followed, each urging the council to oppose the spray.  

Only state representatives supported the spray. The city’s health officer Dr. Linda Rudolph declined to weigh in on the question when asked at the meeting, saying she would speak publicly only after the City Council made its decision known. The staff report was limited to information from the state. 

Among those who spoke at the council meeting were residents with environmental sensitivities. Pauline Bondonno said she is disabled by multiple chemical sensitivities. If there is repeated spraying she said she would have to leave Berkeley and her job with the Berkeley Unified School District. 

“This is chemical warfare on us,” she said. “It’s an inside job.” 

Also Tuesday evening the Oakland Public Safety Committee voted to oppose the spray and will ask the full council to do the same in two weeks.