State Vows to Ensure Moth Spraying Is Safe; (San Francisco Chronicle)
Jane Kay, San Francisco Chronicle, June 12, 2008
environmental officials pledge to thoroughly screen pesticides for risks to
human health before the chemicals are aerially sprayed to eradicate a
crop-eating moth in seven counties, including in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The state is trying to avoid a repeat of last year's controversial 15
nighttime spraying forays over Santa Cruz and Monterey counties.
Under an emergency exemption from the federal government, two formulations
of virtually untested and unregistered pesticides were sprayed last fall over
densely populated urban areas for the first time in the United States.
But winning the public's support for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's
new program to eradicate the light brown apple moth could be difficult.
congressional delegation, 31 cities and counties, three school boards, the
state Assembly and thousands of furious citizens are fighting to restrict the
spraying despite assurances from agricultural officials that the operation will
be safe and effective.
Critics contend that the government's scientific scrutiny isn't
comprehensive enough to assure the safety of people and the environment. None
of the tests looks for long-term effects, and a study that would determine the
size and fate of particles floating in the air appears to be lacking. Fine
particles pose risks to respiratory and cardiovascular systems.
Opponents also say agricultural officials have failed to make the case that
the moth will devastate the state's crops absent the aerial spray or that
dumping a pheromone pesticide over towns will wipe out the bug.
Judges in Santa Cruz
and Monterey Superior Courts halted the spray there in April and May rulings,
saying the state didn't present adequate evidence that the moth has caused
damage to the agricultural industry. The spray projects weren't exempt from the
California Environmental Policy Act, and the state had to prepare
The state agricultural department has said it will appeal the rulings and is
preparing an environmental report, which won't be completed until 2009.
Despite the challenges, California Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura
supports aerial spraying of a pesticide product that would contain a synthetic
pheromone to confuse moths and interfere with mating. He has been speaking
around the state, saying it is the least toxic way to eradicate the moth, which
he says can destroy 250 crops and a host of other plants. If the spray program
could become a model for the rest of the nation, he said.
And so far, at least three towns in the Central Valley
say they support his plan, even though they are not scheduled for spraying.
Four pesticides are under consideration by the USDA.
This week Dr. George Alexeeff, deputy director for scientific affairs of the
Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment in the California
Environmental Protection Agency, said his agency will review studies on the
pesticides supplied by the USDA.
However, Cal-EPA cannot begin its health hazard assessment until it receives
the information from the USDA. This lag time could delay the state's review and
push back spraying until November.
The information from the USDA will include the results of six laboratory
animal studies now in the works on short-term acute toxic effects of the four
pesticides. The chemicals under consideration include products containing the
synthetic moth pheromone.
Cal-EPA's review will assess hazards of the chemicals in the formulations
and then estimate exposures to the population. In addition, the scientists will
research the toxicology information on the so-called "inerts," the
ingredients in the products other than the pheromone. In the end, the agency
will lay out the risks and its concerns.
and state law, a human health risk assessment determines the safety of a
chemical for the general population by looking at animal studies. Scientists
decide on an exposure low enough not to create health effects. To make it even
more protective, they build in a safety factor to protect children, the ill and
Chronic effects questioned
Agriculture officials have said that spraying could occur over several years
in order to systematically bring down the light brown apple moth populations.
Over the past year about 25,000 moths have been trapped in seven counties –
Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin and Monterey.
All have been targeted for spraying.
Residents in those counties fear that the testing doesn't look at long-term
The six animal tests, requested at the very least by state environmental
officials, are all aimed at short-term toxicity.
"The new testing that has been proposed by the state gives the public
no assurance that our safety will be protected," said Roy Upton, a Soquel
resident who represents Citizens for Health, a consumer health advocacy group.
"We will be chronically exposed, but the state will not perform any
chronic studies. The environmental-impact reviews will not be completed in
time, but the state has said it will move forward without them," Upton said.
Caroline Cox, an entomologist
formerly with the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides and now a
scientist at the Center for Environmental Health in Oakland, said the big unknowns are the health
effects of chronic exposure.
Three of the six tests measure how much of a product it would take to kill
an organism through inhalation, ingestion and skin exposure. The other three
determine whether the product would irritate eyes, skin and create an allergic
reaction on the skin, Cox said.
"What it doesn't do is answer the question whether the exposure causes
birth defects, cancer or genetic damage," Cox said.
Some of the health concerns such as asthma and disruption of menstrual
cycles that people reported last year won't be included in the six lab tests,
Concerns over particles
A great concern among the public is over the size of the particles in the
airborne capsules that carried the pesticides last year. Some engineers have
challenged the state's findings that most of the particles were too large to
pose a health risk. They found certain percentages of particles below the
"The particle size is something that we always take into consideration
in our assessment. Particles less than 10 microns are always of greatest
concern because they are inhalable," said Cal-EPA's Alexeeff.
His agency would like the state Air Resources Board and the Department of
Pesticide Regulation to do a specific exposure study, including particle size
and concentration and possibly distribution.
In May, UC Davis entomology professors wrote to urge U.S. Agriculture
Secretary Edward Schafer to reconsider his decision, saying the light brown
apple moth wasn't more of an economic threat than any of the other leaf-roller
pests already in California.
There is no scientific evidence that using the method of mating disruption
via pheromones either alone or with other methods is capable of eradicating any
insect populations, wrote James Carey, Frank Zalom and Bruce Hammock, experts
in invasive species, integrated pest management and insect pheromones,
Schafer hasn't responded.
More about the moth
Where the moth has been trapped: links.sfgate.com/ZDTD
Cities and counties opposing the spray: links.sfgate.com/ZDTE
About the light brown apple moth
— In February 2007, a retired UC Berkeley scientist identifies the light
brown apple moth, a type of leaf-roller.
— The U.S. Department of Agriculture, saying millions of dollars in plants
are at risk, gives the California Department of Food and Agriculture $74.5
million to conduct a spraying program using a pheromone pesticide. Officials
say it's warranted because an international survey ranks the moth high as a
threat, and the larvae can stunt seedlings, pit leaves and damage fruit trees,
citrus and grapes.
— From September through November 2007, aerial sprays are conducted in Monterey and Santa
Cruz counties. Hundreds of people whose homes and
yards were sprayed file reports that say the pesticide seems to have caused
coughing, wheezing, muscle aches and headaches, among other symptoms.
— By February, independent scientists are questioning the economic threat
of the moth and the government's eradication program. Some say the moth is just
— In March, state environmental officials persuade federal agencies to
obtain short-term toxicity tests and health-hazard assessments on four
pesticides under consideration for future spraying.
— In April, three state health agencies release a review of some of the
reported health complaints, and conclude they couldn't tell whether the
reported symptoms were or were not related to the spraying.
— In April and May, two Superior Court judges in Santa
Cruz and Monterey
counties halt the spraying there until the completion of environmental impact
— In June, nearly 1,000 people march across the Golden Gate Bridge
and about 400 go to Crissy Field to oppose the spraying. Thirty-one cities and
counties oppose it.