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Environmentalists Sue California Over Plan to Spray Grapevine Pest
(Beyond Pesticides, June 30, 2003)
Environmentalists filed suit on June 26, 2003 against the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), alleging that the state did not disclose risks to human health and the environment caused by the use of insecticdes to control the Glassy Winged Sharpshooter (GWSS), the insect that spreads Pierce's disease, a bacterial infection lethal to grapevines.

Plaintiffs Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATs), Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and People Opposed to Insecticide Spraying on Neighborhoods (POISON) charged the state agency with failing to provide required protections from the effects of toxic insecticides used in backyards, nurseries, lemon groves, highways and other areas where the GWSS has been found.

"When state agencies can take broad measures such as ordering up insecticide use on our private property right in our backyards, they must reveal how this can hurt us and what they're going to do to prevent such harm," said Patty Clary, director of the lead plaintiff, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics. "By ignoring the law, CDFA has shown that its bias is to protect the interests of big money agriculture at the expense of public health and our environment."

The groups filed suit to prevent the adoption of an Environmental Impact Report on the state's plan to prevent the spread of Pierce's disease. The EIR was ordered by the state legislature in 2001, two years after grape growers panicked over the discovery of Pierce's disease spreading though vineyards in Riverside County and CDFA began a temporary emergency program to halt the GWSS's movement, relying heavily on insecticides. The environmentalists say that in its current form, the EIR does not take a close enough look at what those alternatives are.

"The state dismissed non-toxic alternative control methods, even though CDFA could not demonstrate that the pesticides are more effective for stopping the spread of Pierce's disease," said Jane Nielson of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The Pierce's Disease Control Program has aroused significant community resistance because it has included spraying on private property over the opposition of owners and residents.

"Forced pesticide spraying is an unacceptable practice," said Lowell Downey, spokesman for People Opposed to Insecticide Spraying on Neighborhoods (POISON). "CDFA has spent millions testing treatment methods on farms but has not tested a single neighborhood in California with alternatives."

Californians for Alternatives to Toxics has its office in Eureka and members from throughout California. CATs works primarily to eliminate the use of pesticides that can negatively affect human health and the environment. See http://www.alternatives2toxics.org for more information. Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit include a community group in Napa County called People Opposed to Insecticide Spraying On Neighborhoods (POISON), which is concerned primarily about pesticide spraying in neighborhoods and public spaces. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a nationwide organization with a chapter in California of public employees who work for public agencies with trustee responsibilities for protecting water quality, fisheries and wildlife habitat. More about PEER can be found at http://www.peer.org.

Contact: Patty Clary, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics 707-445-5100 or 707-498-7817; Jane Nielson, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility 707- 829-9393.