Public Comment

Aftermoth: A Legacy of Pain

By Mike Lynberg
Thursday July 03, 2008 - 10:06:00 AM

After they made hundreds of people sick on the Central Coast, and nearly killed at least two children, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Secretary A. G. Kawamura of the CDFA are changing tactics and no longer aerial spraying highly populated cities with untested pesticides. For that, residents of Northern and Central California are grateful. 

They were wrong about the public’s willingness to be aerial sprayed with pesticides. Now, if only the governor and secretary would realize that they are also wrong about the threat posed by the light brown apple moth (LBAM). 

To read Kawamura’s statements in the press, you would think that the light brown apple moth is so voracious that New Zealand, where it has been established for 110 years, would be a barren landscape, with no surviving plants. 

Yet New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, and parts of the United Kingdom consider the apple moth to be an insignificant pest. The United States’ trade embargo and policies related to LBAM are the only things that do significant damage, and the damage is economic. The crusade against the apple moth is a political charade. 

In his characteristically misleading way, Kawamura likes to say the apple moth was discovered in California in 2007, implying it is a recent arrival. But leading entomologists say there is no way the moth could be spread out from Los Angeles to Napa, over an area of 10,000 square miles, unless it has been here for at least 30-50 years. The moths only fly a short distance in their lifetime. 

Scientists also note that the moth has caused no damage anywhere because it is the same as many other leaf-rolling species already in the state, and is likely being controlled by natural predators. 

Two courts in Monterey and Santa Cruz have ruled that the state’s LBAM eradication campaign was launched under the pretense of a false emergency and therefore has been illegal. Gov. Schwarzenegger and Secretary Kawamura have been willing to defy and break state environmental laws, in the opinion of two judges, who found there is no evidence of any damage caused by the moth in California. 

Therefore, the self-proclaimed “People’s Governor” and his appointee, Kawamura, have been willing to put people at risk while breaking state law. With appalling arrogance and for no good reason, they have rushed to use an untested biochemical mix that included plastic microcapsules that people breathed in and that affected their body systems in a variety of horrifying ways. Children were harmed. Two nearly died. Their suffering—and the unspeakable terror their parents experienced—needs to be remembered. 

The state’s investigation of the hundreds of illnesses was cursory, inconclusive and flawed because it was based on false information provided by the pesticide manufacturer, which claimed the microparticles in the spray were too large to inhale. Thanks to work done by independent scientists, we now know that is not true, and that half of the microparticles in the spray were small enough to become lodged deep in a person’s lungs. 

According to the American Lung Association, “Breathing particle pollution can kill. Deaths can occur on the very day that particle levels are high, or within one to two months afterward. Breathing particle pollution year-round can shorten life by one to three years. It causes many other health effects, premature births to serious respiratory disorders, even when the particle levels are very low. It makes asthma worse and causes wheezing, coughing and respiratory irritation in anyone with sensitive airways. It also triggers heart attacks, strokes, irregular heartbeat, and premature death.” 

In effect, the aerial spraying was a vast and dangerous experiment on people’s health without their informed consent. No one knew how the spray’s ingredients would impact people’s health, because no inhalation studies were done in advance, even though the pesticide was delivered in the air people breathed. The short-term effects were dire. We still do not know the long-term effects and can only pray they won’t be severe.  

Standards of ethics such as the Nuremberg Code, established after the atrocities of World War II, prohibit such human experimentation. Yet Schwarzenegger and Kawamura don’t think there was anything wrong with their actions. Almost certainly, they would still be aerial spraying pesticides on our homes and schools if there were not so much political, legal and public opposition—and moral outrage. 

Now Schwarzenegger and Kawamura want to continue their reckless, poorly conceived and poorly managed program on the ground, using a variety of techniques to eradicate a moth that experts say is harmless and cannot be eradicated. Will the ground-based measures in densely populated neighborhoods be safe? Based on their legacy of pain, people have a right to be worried about other next steps the governor and secretary might take.  

Before they can even begin to regain the public’s trust, both the governor and the secretary need to issue an apology to the people they have already harmed, and they need to show that they are truly listening to experts who express concerns about whether their program is safe, necessary and effective. These independent experts need to have a stronger voice and be part of the process, beginning now. 


Mike Lynberg of Pacific Grove collected hundreds of complaints of illnesses following aerial spraying in the Monterey and Santa Cruz areas. He sent reports of the illnesses to state agencies and elected officials, including the governor, and the illness complaints have been widely reported in the press. A graduate of UCLA and Harvard, he works as a communications consultant in Silicon Valley, and has written 10 published books.