Reedley Says OK to Aerial Spray Plan for Bay Area

By Judith Scherr
Thursday June 05, 2008 - 10:01:00 AM

With some 30 cities and 80 organizations on record opposing the state agriculture department’s plan to spray coastal cities and the Bay Area to eradicate the light brown apple moth (LBAM), one city is bucking the trend. Reedley, a Fresno County agricultural community of around 24,000, has stepped up to support the state. 

In other LBAM news, a new study claiming to show the ill effects of the Checkmate pheromone spray was unveiled last week. And also last week, the California Assembly passed a bill requiring an environmental impact report on the LBAM eradication program before spraying. 

On May 13, the five-member Reedley City Council voted unanimously to “support the Department of Food and Agriculture and the USDA’s efforts for using organic pheromones to eradicate the LBAM.” 

“We’re concerned with the health of everyone in California,” Reedley Councilmember Scott Brockett told the Planet Thursday. “I don’t want it to be us against them. We need to be able to protect one another’s interests.” 

It is not clear why Reedley was the first central valley community to support spraying the Bay Area. No LBAMs have been found in the Central Valley. (Reedley City Manager Rocky Rogers, in a phone interview with the Planet on Monday, underscored that the council resolution talks only about supporting eradication of the pest and does not explicitly support the pheromone spray.)  

According to the 2000 census, Reedley is a relatively poor community with 23 percent of the population living below the poverty line. Unemployment is also about 23 percent. About 68 percent of the population is Hispanic. Slightly more than half of the voters voted for Bush and Cheney in 2004. 

CDFA Spokesperson Steve Lyle said his department was reaching out “to provide information” to various communities in and outside the Bay Area and Santa Cruz area targeted for spraying. 

Brockett works as a paramedic and says he has high regard for the health and safety of all Californians. “We’re in support of them spraying an organic pheromone,” he said, underscoring that it was important to use the pheromone now, rather than having to resort to a more dangerous pesticide later. 

Those who oppose the state’s planned aerial spraying, however, say it is both dangerous and ineffectual. 

The California Department of Food and Agriculture sprayed Checkmate on Monterey and Santa Cruz counties in the fall, asserting it was not required to do environmental studies before it sprayed because the spread of the moth was an emergency that could devastate California’s billion dollar agricultural business. Judges in the Santa Cruz and Monterey area have since said that the state must do environmental impact reports before spraying those counties again. The CDFA said it will appeal the rulings but has yet to do so. 

After the fall spraying, some 600 people fell ill. The public outcry that arose has been transformed into an effort to fight the state and stop the spraying. (See stopthespray.org.) 

While Brockett said he was satisfied that the state agriculture department was giving the city good advice, numerous scientists, including a group of entomologists from UC Davis, have said that the light brown apple moth is a pest the state can live with and that the product claimed to eradicate it—some entomologists say eradication is impossible—is untested and dangerous. 

On Thursday Dr. Ann Haiden, an osteopath, unveiled a new paper in a teleconference with reporters that honed in on adverse health effects that could have resulted from the September spray. 

Among Haiden’s concerns are the size of the microcapsules in which the synthetic pheromone and other chemical ingredients of the spray are contained in order to be sprayed. 

“The smallest can reach the deepest part of the lung,” she said, noting that the particles can damage nasal passages as well. 

Among the ingredients in the product that was sprayed is BHT, or butylated hydroxytoluene. “It is used in lab studies to induce cancer,” Haiden said. 

“The effects of inhaled BHT in humans have not been studied,” says Haiden’s paper, which can be read at http://drhaiden.com/moth. 

She said it was important to understand that the reaction to the spray could be different among different individuals. “The portion of the population with higher susceptibility needs to be studied,” she said. “Up to 50 percent of the population can be at risk.”  

Haiden condemned the CDFA for not studying the health effects of the product, including the long-term effects of repeated applications, which could include hormone disruption, developmental defects, lung disease or cancer.  

“Reliance on short-term symptoms, or lack thereof, as the major determinants of safety is misguided given our current, and growing, knowledge base,” the paper says. 

“The acute symptoms after the spray are the tip of the iceberg,” Haiden said. 

CDFA spokesperson Steve Lyle reacted to the report Thursday with a press statement downplaying the paper. 

“If a product other than Checkmate is chosen, this study would be obsolete as a forward-looking document of value to Bay Area residents,” he wrote. The state is testing four other products to eradicate the moth. The tests are being conducted in New Zealand.  

The statement further said that “aerial treatment will not resume until a thorough battery of toxicology tests is completed on the four products currently being considered.” Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called for the tests in April. They are expected to completed by mid-August. 

Several individuals living in the Santa Cruz-Monterey area participated in the phone press conference to talk about the ill health effects they suffered as a result of the spraying last September. 

Several individuals who participated in the phone press conference said they and their children had suffered ill health as a result of the September spray. Participants included naval officer Tim Wilcox, whose son, with no previous respiratory problems, was hospitalized twice with breathing problems after the spray. 

The state downplays testimony about nausea, skin rash, asthma and other ailments that were reported by persons living in the coastal spray area.  

“Reports found no link between the illness claims and the Checkmate product,” Lyle wrote. 

On May 29, the Assembly narrowly passed AB2760 41 to 32, authored by Mark Leno (Dem., San Francisco) requiring that the state conduct an environmental review before spraying to eradicate the LBAM. The bill now goes to the Senate.  

If approved there and signed by the governor, who has told the Planet through his spokespeople that he supports the spray program, the bill would not take effect until January, some four months after the state plans to begin to spray. The legislation would, however, affect later spraying.