On April 23, the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) unanimously approved a resolution, brought by School Board Director Karen Hemphill, in opposition to the aerial pesticide spraying proposed for the Bay Area. (The current CDFA plan is to spray every 30 days for nine months of each year for up to five years or longer.) The board’s resolution requests that the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) act to protect the health and welfare of the residents and natural environment of Alameda County by immediately shifting its light brown apple moth (LBAM) control methods to least-toxic Integrated Pest Management methods. The resolution also urges BUSD to join neighboring jurisdictions, including other school districts and local governments, to oppose the spray and requests that the Alameda County School Board and other local school districts take a similar stand.
In proposing this resolution, Director Hemphill brings our children, one of the most at risk populations to pesticide exposure, to the forefront of the discussion of pesticide use in our urban environment. As Dr. Tara Levy testified at the BUSD meeting:
• Children are a more vulnerable population to pesticide exposure than adults due to lower body weight, less developed detoxification pathways, and less mature lungs.
• Children go to school early in the morning, often leaving for school only a few hours after the spraying stops. Children may be the first population exposed following each spray.
• Children play outside where playgrounds will be coated by the spray. Some of the spray ingredients are known to be more toxic when they come in contact with water; morning dew and fog on our playgrounds and in our parks may increase the toxic effects experienced by exposed children in the morning. How are playgrounds and play equipment going to be protected?
• Schools rely on attendance for funding. More absenteeism results in less funding from the state. Some children are likely to stay at home during spray periods, either as the result of illness or parental caution.
• Spray particles will be tracked into school facilities on shoes, backpacks, and clothing and will concentrate in classrooms and hallways.
• School healthcare resources may be overburdened. Schools nurses should be educated on signs and symptoms of pesticide-related illnesses, and will need to have protocols in place to manage children who become ill on the days following the spray. Schools without school nurses are especially vulnerable.
CDFA Secretary Kawamura, his staff, and representatives from the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) have continuously mischaracterized the pesticide (CheckMate) as a “harmless pheromone.” The facts are different. CheckMate is an EPA-registered pesticide (EPA Registration No. 56336) which, in addition to a synthetic pheromone, contains 9 inert ingredients. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health database and the Material Safety Data Sheets clearly show some of these inert ingredients are carcinogenic and associated with birth defects. For example, the ingredient Butylated Hydroxytoluene has carcinogenic, tumerogenic, mutagenic, teratogenic effects in animals and human cells; Polyvinyl Alcohol is an irritant and its material safety data sheet indicates that it has caused cancerous tumors in lab animals.
The pesticide is delivered in microscopic plastic capsules, some of which are smaller than 10 microns in size—the size of particulate matter which can be inhaled into the deep lung. Secretary Kawamura claimed inaccurately (at the Berkeley City Council meeting on Feb. 26) that the smallest size is 10 microns and that 10 microns is not inhalable into the lung. On April 6, two Monterey area scientists (Drs. Dennis Knepp and Jeff Haferman) released their analysis of the capsules’ size, finding that the CDFA made a serious mathematical error in calculating the size range of the particles such that a much greater percentage of the particles is smaller than 10 microns than was previously publicized. Their analysis notes that “the small particle size from the CheckMate spray can cause significant health issues, and the CDFA needs to seriously reexamine their findings.”
The BUSD, along with cities and counties in the spray zone, is calling for the CDFA to shift its focus from using pesticides as a solution to less harmful measures and least-toxic integrated pest management techniques, including taking no action based on sound science, lack of apparent damage by the moth to agriculture, and facts about the biology and behavior of the moth that suggest that aerial spraying will not eradicate it.
On April 24 a judge in Santa Cruz County ruled that the CDFA had not made its case for the spraying and ordered that an Environmental Impact Report be completed before spraying could go forward in Santa Cruz. The same day, the governor delayed spraying in all areas until Aug. 17. Thanks to this, we have gained some additional time in which to marshal even greater opposition to the current CDFA program and additional support for a more enlightened approach that will protect the health of those in the spray zone.
Please join communities throughout the spray zone in this effort. For information from groups opposed to the spray see www.stopthespray.org and www.lbamspray.com.
Berkeley resident Jane Kelly is a member of StoptheSpray East Bay.