Aerial spraying to eradicate the Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM) is a frequent topic on local listservs these days. Unfortunately, the answer as to whether there are health risks from the state's plan to begin spraying in Alameda and Contra Costa counties this summer is that we really don't know.'
Not knowing is not good as far as I'm concerned when we are talking about health risks from insufficiently tested pesticides. According to a report from the City of Albany Integrated Pest Management Task Force, "following the spraying in Monterey and Santa Cruz in 2007, there were more than 600 reports of health problems, including asthma-like attacks and difficulty breathing, chest pains, headaches, blurred vision, swollen glands, skin rashes, and feelings of chronic fatigue. These symptoms are consistent with the health impacts of the ingredients of the pesticide formula whose effects are known." The City of Albany is among a number of bodies to pass resolutions against the spraying, and state Senator Carole Migden has authored a bill requesting suspension of the spraying until more information about its safety can be determined. [Oakland City Council also passed a resolution against spraying. Ed.]
Why then is the state planning to continue spraying? Primarily because agribusiness represents a huge part of California's economy, and the LBAM is seen as a potentially devastating threat to that industry. The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) fears the USDA will quarantine the counties where the moth has been found. California's economy is already in trouble, so I certainly understand the concern about potential problems resulting from the LBAM.'
The active ingredient in the spray being used is a synthetic moth pheromone, an agent that is not harmful even to the moths. It acts by confusing the male moths so that they cannot find a mate. So the active ingredient in the spray is not the concern. According to a letter on the subject addressed to the public by A.G. Kawamura, Secretary of the CDFA, tests done by public health officials indicate that the health problems reported following use of the spray last year were not due to the pheromone.'
The concerns for me and thousands of other Californians include the inert ingredients in the spray. The ingredients have not been adequately tested for health risks (and could be responsible for the reported health problems). The pheromone is delivered using minute plastic capsules that are inhaled by people and animals exposed to the spray. A California Office of Environmental Health and Hazard Assessment report indicates that "the spray particles may remain suspended in the air for up to 12 months." CDFA may be changing the spray formulation to last even longer and has not disclosed the ingredients in the new formulation.
An article in the Contra Costa Times on March 15 reports that two Santa Cruz researchers, Daniel Harder and Jeff Rosendale, "contend the light brown apple moth may well be adequately controlled by natural predators rather than aerial spraying of a synthetic pheromone." They came to this conclusion after visiting New Zealand, where the LBAM "has been around for about a century." The pair also state in their report that aerial spraying may not be effective. The state disagrees with their findings.
This is a complex issue and I urge you to research it yourself to get additional information. The following Web sites will get you started: www.stopthespray.org and
www.cdfa.ca.gov. If you agree that the spraying should be suspended until more is known about its safety, contact state officials to make your voice heard.
Paulette Avery is a registered nurse and a freelance writer who specializes in health issues. You can reach her at averyfam\@comcast.net.