(Beyond Pesticides, June 23, 2005)
California state officials abruptly cancelled the program to spray pesticides to combat the light brown apple moth (LBAM). This move came after months of protests by residents over concerns that the chemicals in the pheromone-based pesticide may adversely impact their health and the environment. California’s Agriculture Secretary, A.G. Kawamura, announced on Thursday that the state has abandoned its plan for aerial spraying of the light brown apple moth in urban areas of several counties, including the San Francisco Bay area. However, sprayings may still proceed on farmland in rural areas. Officials also stated that they would not spray over communities near farms.
“I know there’s concern out there, and we want to be able to address that,” Secretary Kawamura told reporters. “Our focus is to use the technology that has moved progressively forward.”
Instead of spraying, the state said that it would keep moth populations under control by releasing sterile moths to halt reproduction by rendering eggs useless. Apparently the use of sterile moth as a means of population control has been a part of the state’s plans for more than a year. It is not clear therefore why aerial spraying was so heavily advocated by state officials, but Secretary Kawamura noted that the state’s change of plans comes about because of “new science” and not over concerns about the environment.
This decision is viewed as a victory for many environmental activists and communities of Monterey, Santa Cruz, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, Alameda, Solano and Santa Barbara. Protests over the spraying began after about 487 people reported feeling symptoms ranging from itchy eyes to breathing trouble after planes dusted a fine chemical mist over the area surrounding Monterey and Santa Cruz last fall.
State environmental health experts insisted that the illnesses reported could not conclusively be linked to the initial round of aerial sprayings. Despite this, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger decided to delay continued aerial spraying, vowing to prove that the chemical was safe.
A lawsuit against the state was filed, citing that Secretary Kawamura broke state law by authorizing the aerial campaign without the benefit of an environmental review to determine the spray’s effect on people and the environment. In April, a California Court ruled that the light brown apple moth was not an immediate threat and delayed aerial spraying so that an environmental impact report was completed (See Daily News of April 28 and May 14, 2008).
“Wahoo! This is a landmark victory for the public,” said David Dilworth, executive director of Helping Our Peninsula’s Environment (HOPE). “People had to spend thousands and thousands of hours of high-level work to get a bureaucracy to do the obviously moral choice.”
The light brown apple moth, which federal officials say threatens more than 2,000 varieties of California plants and crops, was first spotted in the state in March 2007 and has infested ten counties stretching from north of San Francisco to Santa Barbara. Officials planned to use the pesticide, CheckMate LBAM-F which works as a pheromone that disrupts the mating cycle of the moth. Uncertainties about so-called inert or undisclosed ingredients, included in many pesticide formulations, were a serious concern.
Source: Associated Press