Pacifica may nis moth sprayingBy Jane Northrop
Pacifica City Council will decide April 28 whether to join the 37 cities and counties that have passed resolutions against the California Department of Food and Agriculture's plan to aerially spray a pheromone to disrupt the mating season of the light brown apple moth.
If passed, the resolution will not compel the CDFA to stop the spraying, but Pacifica's voice will be added to the united front of those municipalities and counties that object. Those cities and counties include Alameda, Albany, Berkeley, Corte Madera, Emeryville, Fairfax, Mill Valley, Monterey, Oakland, Pacific Grove, Richmond, San Anselmo, San Leandro, Santa Cruz, Sausalito and the counties of Santa Cruz and Marin.
Presently Pacifica has only one light brown apple moth, according to trap data, said Gail Raabe, the San Mateo County Agricultural Commissioner, but that number is subject to review as new trap data comes in this season. However, Pacifica is on the southern end of an area that has a heavy population of light brown apple moths. The CFDA, in concert with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, wants to reduce the moth's population growth but not necessary eradicate it.
The CDFA is planning to spray Checkmate OLR-F, a pheromone encased in microscopic plastic capsules over parts of Marin, Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Mateo and San Francisco counties beginning in August and continuing every month for an indefinite period. The map of the spraying area indicates the northern part of Pacifica will be sprayed.
Raabe explained the history of what trapping has been done for moths in San Mateo County.
"We trapped the first moth in Belmont in April of 2007. We have 2,500 traps throughout the county. We started pulling traps last spring. We trapped 138 male moths in 99 different locations, including one moth in Pacifica. Pacifica is the southernmost boundary of an area that has a high density of the moth. More than 60 percent live in Daly City, South San Francisco, Colma, San Bruno and Brisbane. The rest are in San Francisco County, mostly in Golden Gate Park. We're still gathering info. The state is looking at Pacifica as being the southern boundary of the hot spot, but the map is a snapshot in time. A lot will depend on what we find in our traps in the next six months," Raabe said.
Spraying has already begun in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.
The CDFA has declared a state of emergency over the moth because of the damage it may do to the state's crops and to the state's vegetation.
"The moth is a threat to the environment and to the native trees in California. It's known as the light brown everything moth.' The food supply is at risk," said Steve Lyle, director of public affairs for the CDFA.
The current plan to use Checkmate is under review, not because of the wave of public opinion that is opposed to it, but because the CDFA is looking for something that won't have to be repeated every 30 days, Lyle said.
Critics say the spraying is going forward too soon - before long-term health and safety tests have been conducted and before officials can be sure the spraying is necessary and will actually work.
Local resident Sharon Luehs is one of the people actively protesting. She wrote letters to legislators asking them to stop the spaying. She gathered 100 signatures on a "Stop the Aerial Spray" petition and sent it to the governor.
"Their (CDFA) rationale is that the apple moth may potentially damage agricultural crops and that Checkmate, being a moth pheromone, is safe. Both of these claims are untrue. The moth has not caused any agricultural harm and Checkmate has never been studied for safety in humans and contains several inert' toxic ingredients," she said.
She's looking for a written guarantee that Checkmate will not pose a danger to people or pets long term in the future.
"If Suterra Co. (the manufacturer) is so sure that this chemical does not cause side effects, Suterra needs to put up a $1 billion trust for any side effects for future generations," Luehs said.
Pacifican Ashley Larsen has concerns, as well, about the safety of the product.
"The product label has a number of warnings about skin and eye exposure as well as hazards if it is swallowed or inhaled. On the Suterra material safety data sheet, it states that they have conducted no tests to determine the long-term effects of the product. In addition the CDFA has yet to release an environmental impact report. The CDFA has been able to conduct the spraying without going through the usual channels because the Secretary of Agriculture has declared a state of emergency.
There are number of legislators, including Senator Carole Midgen, who have proposed legislation to suspend or stop the spraying, at least until more information is provided about the human health and environmental impact, but these may be vetoed by the governor, who supports the project. I've written to the governor and all of our representatives, along with the County Agricultural Commissioner. I know at least one of my neighbors has done the same," Larsen wrote in an email to the Tribune.
Larsen is concerned about the health hazards for her young son, who may touch surfaces that may have been sprayed with Checkmate.
"From what I've come to understand, the way Checkmate LBAM-F works is that the pheromone and several other ingredients are encased in microscopic plastic capsules. The capsules fall to the ground, and as the plastic degrades over the next 30 days or so, the pheromone is released into the air. Rather ingenious, I guess, since it means they only have to spray once a month, but terrifying if you think about these basically invisible chemical capsules covering potentially every outdoor surface.
If nothing else, the active ingredient is known to be a skin and eye irritant that can cause upset stomach if ingested, and since Suterra has never conducted any long-term studies, who knows what other side effects it may have. I'm terrified to think of my three-year-old climbing around on the playground at his preschool, which is directly in the spray zone, and picking up hundreds of these capsules on his skin that may then end up in his mouth or his nose or eyes," Larsen wrote.
Very little of the pheromone is in use in the aerial spraying, Raabe said.
"You are talking in terms of tablespoons per acre," she said. "The pheromone product has been around in Australia and New Zealand for years to act as a control in agricultural fields. The pheromone is not anything new."
In Pescadero and Half Moon Bay, twist ties on trees and fence posts are all that is needed because of the low population of moths. The twist ties are effectively disrupting the mating and, over time, will snuff out the population, Raabe said.
"There is a lot of concern out there. From what I'm seeing the concern is about the aerial application. The concern was not with the twist ties. There is an area that the state felt is so dense they couldn't go in with twist ties, such as Golden Gate Park. It depends a lot on what happens on our traps through August. The moths are starting to get active," Raabe said.
Tests that have determined the safety of the pheromone product have been adequate, according to Lyle.
"Moth pheromone products have been used around the world, including residential areas in the United States. Last year there were some illnesses reported in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties. The product has been evaluated in terms of those illnesses. It was not likely that Checkmate caused those illnesses. A follow-up study will come out next month that will shed more light on that.
Everything we know about the use of Checkmate around the world over the last decade showed no indication of any problems whatsoever. We believe it's a product that does not harm people, pets or plants. If we go with a different product, there will be a full battery of tests. We wont do it until the tests are completed. A longer lasting Checkmate is being tested, others are as well," Lyle said.
Raabe said the state department of pesticide regulation, the state office of environmental health hazard assessment and other state public health officials have all reviewed the aerial spraying program.
"They have said the pheromone is the preferable way to go. It's not an insecticide. It's specific to the moth. You are not killing beneficial insects. The state is testing different formulations. I know the product they decide to go with will go through a high level of review and scrutiny by health officials. The CFDA has eradicated other pests with insecticides, not just a pheromone. CDFA was expecting people would appreciate that," Raabe said.
But is it possible the decision to go with Checkmate was politically motivated, Luehs and Larsen asked. The owner of Suterra, Stewart Resnick and his wife, own Roll International Corporation, a privately-held holding company based in Los Angeles. Among its holdings are Paramount Agribusiness, the largest farming operation of tree crops in the world, POM Wonderful, FIJI Water, Teleflora and the Franklin Mint. Resnick is a major campaign contributor to Governor Schwarzenegger. In 2005, he made a $100,000 donation and two donations for $22,300 each.
Larsen and Luehs wondered if Resnick's connection to the governor won Suterra the contract to spray California counties to disrupt the moth.
"To me this calls Schwarzenegger's interest in pursuing the aerial spraying and the other pheromone treatments the CDFA is planning into question," Larsen said.
Lyle responded the decision to use Suterra to deliver Checkmate was made by the USDA and not by the CDFA. The USDA was also involved in the preliminary research.
"The USDA brought in the technical working group of ten scientists. They advised us to treat aerially with moth pheromone. We are using other tools - twist ties, parasitic stingless wasps in San Francisco and Santa Cruz counties, organic pesticides, too," Lyle said.
Six bills are pending in the state legislature to address the public's concern and opposition to the aerial spraying. One bill passed April 2, AB 2763, introduced by Assembly Member John Laird, which enacts the Invasive Pest Planning Act of 2008. The bill requires CDFA to create a list of invasive animals, plants and insects that have a reasonable likelihood of entering California for which an eradication program might be appropriate.
The other pending bills:
ACR (Assembly Concurrent Resolution) 117, introduced March 13 by Assembly Budget Committee Chair John Laird (D-Santa Cruz), calls on the CDFA, the Department of Pesticide Regulation, the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment and other relevant state departments to address more than 600 unresolved health, scientific and efficacy issues surrounding the moth eradication plans.
AB 2765, introduced Feb. 27 by Assembly member Jared Huffman (D), would set new limits on the emergency powers of the Department of Agriculture. It requires a public hearing to receive testimony and examine alternatives to aerial spraying prior to any decision to spray. It further bars emergency spraying in an urban area unless there is full disclosure of all elements in any pesticide product and a certification of the safety of the product by state health officials.
AB 2760 introduced Feb. 27 by Assembly Member Mark Leno would require an Environmental Impact Report be completed before the CDFA can apply pesticide in an urban area for the eradication of the moth.
AB 2764 introduced Feb. 27 by Assembly Member Loni Hancock, would prohibit the Secretary of Food and Agriculture from approving the application of a pesticide in an urban area, unless the governor proclaimed a state of emergency. Current law allows the Secretary of CDFA to proclaim any area in the state an eradication area.
AB 2892 introduced Feb. 22 by Sandre Swanson would require the secretary of CDFA first obtain the consent of two-thirds of the registered voters of the affected cities and counties if the secretary deems it necessary to spray pesticide in an urban area.
SCR 87 introduced Feb. 27 by State Senator Carole Migden would request the CDFA impose a moratorium on any aerial spraying until the department can demonstrate the pheromone compound is safe to humans and effective at eradicating the light brown apple moth.
But Lyle said the pheromone compound is safe, based on the use of Checkmate last year.
"Toxicologists have stated human beings do not recognize moth pheromone," he said.
The California Department of Public Health and the CFDA is working on a protocol for reporting illnesses, Lyle said.
Checkmate was approved for organic use, as stated on the CDFA website. Lyle hopes whatever is chosen to replace it can have the same designation.
The CFDA has not yet decided what propellant to use to dispatch Checkmate, Lyle said.
The plastic capsules that encase the pheromone are biodegradable, Lyle said.
"We believe that entire idea and concept of releasing pheromone is a very progressive approach that environmental groups have been asking us to produce for years. Now we have something that doesn't hurt anything. We think it's a great step forward for pest eradication," he said.
Raabe said the spraying will be done at night. Prior to any treatment, residents in a treatment area will be notified by mail in advance and provided with a public information meeting. Raabe believes the spraying program will be effective.
"Last spring, once we got all the traps out, CDFA and USDA assembled a technical working group of scientists from around the world and asked them if the moth was that important to eradicate and could it be done. They concluded it was small enough. This is the first time it's been found in North America. They thought we should try and get rid of it and we have effective tools to do it. It would take several years with a number of treatment options, but they felt it could be done. You have to give some credibility to these experts," Raabe said.
Copyright ©2008 Pacifica Tribune. Published 04/16/2008.