April 30, 2008

Moratorium on Statewide Spray Passed Unanimously: Long-Term Studies Remain to Be Seen

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Members of the Senate passed a resolution introduced by Sen. Carole Migden (D-CA) on Monday, unanimously voting to halt all aerial spraying in California until the CDFA "can demonstrate that the pheromone compound it intends to use is both safe to humans and effective at eradicating the light brown apple moth." The 7-0 vote by the California Senate Environmental Quality Committee goes beyond Gov. Schwarzenegger's recent decision to halt spraying statewide until around August 17, when the results of limited testing on acute health impacts are expected. This latest legislation sends the clear, albeit unusual, message that logic trumps politics when it comes to public safety.

The strength of the resolution lies in its requirement that the CDFA prove two things:
  1. That the spray is safe to humans.
  2. That the spray is an effective way to eradicate the light brown apple moth.
The CDFA may have their work cut out for them. According to a recent panel of bug experts including Jim Carey, an etymologist who has worked with CDFA in the past, aerial spraying of pheromone-based chemicals is "ineffective even as a control tool." The method has never been used to successfully eradicate the moth, and current testing to identify the formula's potential to do so is still incomplete.

This latest Senate resolution, along with a judge's recent halting of the spraying in Santa Cruz county, would seem to put the burden of safety and efficacy back in the lap of the CDFA, which is exactly where it belongs. There remains, however, some skepticism about whether or not CDFA can provide such reassurances.

Exactly how the government intends to test for the as-yet-undisclosed chemical's safety, and what health impacts they'll test for, is still unknown. According to a San Francisco Chronicle report, the state will conduct "
a series of tests on possible eye, inhalation, respiratory and other potential irritants." Research Director Caroline Cox, of the Center for Environmental Health, expressed reservations about the lack of attention to potential long-term health effects, noting that the proposed tests "do not include any testing for important long-term health problems like cancer, birth defects, or genetic damage."

The testing will be done by a USDA contractor, according to the Chronicle report, which may also raise questions about a potential conflict of interest. The USDA, after all, has been working hand-in-hand with the CDFA to develop the current eradication plan. Given the fact that the government agencies advocating the spray and the citizen groups opposing the spray both have a clear agenda, it may be difficult to find an unbiased middle ground. But that's exactly what needs to happen if any real solutions to the LBAM infestation are to be found.

Additional References:
Full text of the passed resolution.
Press release about the legislation.
Recap of expert panel presentation.
Judge, Schwarzenegger Stop Apple Moth Spraying (CBS5)

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