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CA Defends Spray Plan for Moth, Critics Charge Scare Tactics

(Beyond Pesticides, April 16, 2008) The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is warning that if pheromone spraying in the San Francisco Bay area is postponed this summer, more conventional insecticides could be used in the future to manage a larger-scale light brown apple moth (LBAM) infestation. The related legal brief was released Monday in response to a lawsuit that demands an environmental review before the pheromone, CheckMate, is sprayed this summer. A number of cities and counties have taken a stand against the spray, including Santa Cruz county’s lawsuit, the hearing for which is coming up on April 24.

CDFA is resisting the counties’ attempts to delay their LBAM action plan. “The risk of greater conventional pesticide is out there,” said CDFA spokesman Steve Lyle. According to the brief, the pesticide to be used would be bacillus thuringiensus (Bt), which is commonly used in other areas of the country to fight insects like the gypsy moth. One concern of local researchers is the area’s populations of endangered and threatened moths and butterflies, which would be further threatened by a non-selective insecticide.

Santa Cruz Councilman Tony Madrigal dismissed the brief as employing scare tactics. “They’re proposing a choice to the people between bad and worse,” he said.

In addition, the state has gone on the offensive against injury reports from the first round of pheromone spraying, which occurred last fall. The Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, Department of Pesticide Regulation, and California Department of Public Health released a report last week that argues a lack of evidence showing reported illnesses were caused by the spraying. After analyzing a total of 463 reports of human symptoms after the spraying, most of which included respiratory symptoms, the report concluded, “It is not possible to determine whether or not there is a link between any of the reported symptoms and the aerial spraying.” Among several shortcomings found in the data, the report argued, “the reported symptoms are nonspecific and, and are quite common among the general population . . . Given the range of causes for these symptoms and the large number of individuals expected to experience such symptoms at any given time, the symptoms in the 463 reports cannot be clearly attributed to any specific cause.”

To improve future reporting, the three agencies are designing a streamlined program to collect illness reports, including providing training to physicians on how to identify pesticide-related symptoms. The report includes full recommendations to help prevent any “unexpected health events” in conjunction with future LBAM spraying.

State Senator Carole Migden released a statement following the report. She said, “OEHHA says that it was unable to confirm a link between spraying and adverse health effects because most health complaints did not contain enough information to determine the cause of symptoms. Clearly, people should refrain from assuming that this means that no link exists. What residents must understand is that the spraying plan for the Bay Area will be much longer in duration than last fall’s and that no long-term studies have been done on the health affects [sic] of the spray that will be used – a spray that encapsulates the pesticide in tiny plastic spheres that people will inhale. How can that possibly be good for us?”

Sources: The Mercury News, eFluxMedia, San Francisco Bay Guardian


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