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Plaintiffs Win Pesticide Fight; Feds Withdraw Apple Moth Spray

By Richard Brenneman
Thursday May 21, 2009 - 09:52:00 AM

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ordered a ban on two controversial sprays used to battle the light brown apple moth (LBAM), ending a lawsuit filed by attorney Stephan Volker on behalf of environmental activ-ists and the mayors of Albany and Richmond. 

A judicial order filed Wednesday, May 13, in U.S. District Court in Oakland ends the suit filed by the mayors, the North Coast Rivers Alliance and a group of citizens against the EPA and former agency administrator Steven L. John-son. 

The lawsuit alleged that CheckMate LBAM-F caused “widespread, physical harm to infants, children, the elderly, and the chemically sensitive, as well as to seabirds, upland birds and other wild and domestic animals” during a three-month spraying program in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties in 2007. 

The local mayors became involved after the state Department of Food and Agriculture and the federal De-partment of Agriculture an-nounced a plan to begin a similar spraying campaign in Ala-meda County. 

Among the plaintiffs were Air Force Major Timothy Wilcox and his then-infant son Jack, whom the suit alleged suffered severe, permanent in-juries from exposure to CheckMate ORLF, a companion spray.  

Plaintiff Krista Marie Alongi Aron charged that her then-9-year-old daughter and co-plaintiff Nora Aron suffered acute, long-term respiratory injuries from exposure to LBAM-F. 

Other plaintiffs came from Marin, San Mateo, Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. 

The Albany City Council passed a resolution opposing the spraying in January 2008, shortly after the joint state and federal Bay Area spraying campaign was announced. Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, a Green Party activist, also joined the lawsuit. 

Further complicating the issues raised by the introduction of a new spray into the state was the hefty weight of political contributions. 

Stewart and Lynda Resnick, a Los Angeles couple, had made a $144,600 donation to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign. They co-chair Roll International, a Los Angeles holding company with subsidiaries that include Paramount Agribusiness, Fiji Water, and Suterra Inc., the Oregon company that manufactures the pesticides. 

The chemical hadn’t been tested on humans, nor formally registered with the EPA, despite a $75 million federal grant for the spraying program, including a $497,500 contract for a private-sector public relations firm to sell the public on the safety of the sprays. 

Several scientists had also questioned the need for a wide-scale spraying program, contending that the pest was restricted by temperature and humidity factors to a very small range, an area much smaller than that targeted by spray advocates. 

The plaintiffs won a major victory when Lois Rossi, director of the EPA’s pesticide registration division, issued orders on April 16, revoking the emergency exemptions granted the two compounds on the grounds that an already-registered pesticide was available.