Page One

Council May Face State in Court to Stop Moth Spray

By Judith Scherr
Friday February 29, 2008

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 also to consider going to court to prevent the state from moving forward with plans to spray Bay Area counties in August. 

The vote on the measure was  

8-1, with Councilmember Kriss Worthington in opposition. Both Worthington and Councilmem-ber Dona Spring—Spring voted for the item—said they thought the statement wasn’t strong enough. Speaking to the Planet on Thursday, Spring said the council should have formalized its intent to sue the state at the the Tuesday meeting. “There’s no real commitment to it,” she said. 

The council will meet in closed session March 17 to discuss the 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 Alameda, Contra Costa, San Francisco, Marin, Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. 

At the Tuesday meeting, Spring took on CDFA Secretary A. G. Kawamura, who had come to the session to promote the CDFA spray plan. “I suggest, sir, that you don’t protect public health by ramming [the spray] down the throat of the population,” she said. 

Accompanied by two highway patrol officers posted at the back of the Council Chambers, Kawamura addressed the council, speaking of 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 LBAM 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.  

Councilmembers wanted to know why the spraying would begin before an environmental impact report has been completed. 

Kawamura explained that stopping the moth is “time-sensitive. The LBAM is spreading as we speak,” 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, he said there are no written requests from the various county officials who had approached him. He also said that citrus growers had not made a 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, a product that consists of a synthetic pheromone that causes mating disruption in the LBAM. When sprayed by air, the pheromone is contained in microcapsules 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 opinion. 

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

After Kawamura and a colleague spoke to the council in favor of the spray, a panel of opponents was 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 reported health problems after the September spray. Albany went on record in January opposing the spray. 

While the state representatives said the microcapsules 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 that 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 committed to the principles of integrated pest management and the precautionary principle, in which 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 illnesses. Pauline Bondonno said she is disabled by multiple chemical sensitivities. If there are repeated sprayings 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.” 

Others pointed to more subtle fallout—the damage that monthly spraying could do to the city’s tourist industry and to home values when the owner must disclose spraying to the buyer.  

At around the same time Tuesday evening, the Oakland Public Safety Committee heard from a room full of spray opponents and voted to oppose the spray. The committee will ask the full council to do the same in two weeks. 

Several Public Safety Committee members criticized CDFA representatives who were present, pointing out, among other things, that the spraying might have a particularly devastating effect in Oakland's flatlands, where 25 percent of the children suffer from asthma. 

“The problem of the moths should be resolved,” said Oakland Councilmember Jane Brunner, who introduced the resolution along with Councilmember Larry Reid. “It should be the solution that’s least invasive to our cities.” 

Responding to an assertion from a state representative that the spraying would have no effect on Oakland residents, Reid said, “As a young man I served in Vietnam where Agent Orange was sprayed, and we were told that it would not have any effect on us. But of course, it did. I am concerned about the lack of research on this subject.” 

Meanwhile, nearby, at the downtown Oakland Elihu Harris State Building, the CDFA was holding a hearing as part of the environmental impact report process. About 100 people were there. 

None of the speakers, except CDFA representatives, supported the spray. A number expressed frustration that, while their input was being noted and would be included in the EIR, the spray was already scheduled. 

Some speakers pointed to the high cost of the project—more than $75 million is allocated to the eradication efforts. 

Oakland resident Pamela Drake was among them: “We’re spending public monies to do this to ourselves—we need to stop,” she said. 

For more information, see the CDFA website at: lbam/ or 


Staff writer J. Douglas Allen-Taylor contributed to this story.