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New Jersey Rejects Toxic Sprays for Gypsy Moths

(Beyond Pesticides, January 31, 2007) On January 29, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) concluded a month-long review of the Department of Agriculture’s (NJDA) petition to waive the state’s ban on aerial-spraying of broad-spectrum pesticides. The state will uphold the ban, effectively blocking widespread use of the chemical Dimilin.

The ban affects towns seeking to reduce rising gypsy moth populations. Roughly 125,000 acres of trees suffered defoliation in the state as a result of gypsy moths, one of the worst years in recent memory. Gypsy moths have been in New Jersey since the 1920s, and their destruction peaking in 1981, with 800,000 acres defoliated.

Dimilin is a restricted-use pesticide (available only to certified applicators) that has been unavailable for broadcast use for decades. For the past 20 years, in lieu of aerial spraying of Dimilin – also known as diflubenzuron – the pesticide specified in NJDA’s request, New Jersey towns have used bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) , a bacterial agent. With gypsy moth populations expected to be higher in 2007 than in recent years, NJDA argued that Bt would be insufficient to protect hardwood trees across the state.

In a letter to NJDA, Marcedius T. Jameson, DEP’s administrator for pesticide control wrote, “The case for Bt being ineffective was not made since the municipalities in New Jersey are being offered Bt as a viable option for control in 2007.” NJDA also argued that the gypsy moth situation in the state could be categorized as an environmental emergency. Mr. Jameson responded, “The variable potential for tree loss and the nuisance that gypsy moth caterpillars pose do not rise to the level of an environmental emergency.” With the prohibition on aerial spraying of Dimilin still intact, towns have the options of spraying Bt, applying Dimilin in smaller amounts, or individuals can hire private applicators to treat their property with Bt as well.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies Dimilin as “moderately toxic” to humans. Jane Nogaki, of the New Jersey Environmental Federation, added, “The breakdown product is a probable carcinogen and it can rob blood cells of oxygen.” In addition, as a broad-spectrum herbicide, Dimilin affects both gypsy moths and beneficial organisms, such as aquatic crustaceans and other molting insects. “We’re pleased that the governor and the DEP weighed in on the side of the public and the environment,” said Ms. Nogaki.

See Beyond Pesticides’ January 16, 2007 story on New Jersey’s Dimilin.


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