April 17, 2008

Overview of the Spray

The following information is intended to provide an overview of the State's plans to spray California with an undisclosed chemical. I'll be posting more in-depth analysis as I can, so please look for future explorations of spraying alternatives, chemical impact on human health and the environment, and political activity surrounding the spray.

The Plan
California's Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) will begin aerial spraying of urban populations this summer in an attempt to eradicate the light brown apple moth (LBAM).

The Method
Low-flying airplanes (500-800 feet) will drop an undisclosed chemical over the selected areas for three times per month for nine months. This will continue for 3-5 years (or longer, if the moth is not eradicated by then). This aerial spraying will be in addition to other land-based methods of eradication/control.

Areas Affected
Over seven million California residents will be directly impacted, including the following counties:
  • San Francisco
  • Alameda
  • Contra Costa
  • Marin
  • San Mateo
  • Monterey and Santa Cruz
However, the entire State of California could experience economic, environmental and health impacts as well. There are implications for the country as a whole, too, since the USDA has already initiated surveys to identify if the LBAM exists anywhere else.

The Moth
The light brown apple moth is an "invasive" pest that has not yet been reported to cause significant crop damage in California. California populations were officially identified in 2007, but population densities and locations indicate that it has been around for a decade or more. This implies that the emergency spraying measures may very well be an overreaction and a distraction from more effective methods of control. [source: UC Davis]

The Chemical
We don't actually know the specific formula that the State will be spraying us with. Last year, they sprayed Monterey county with various formulations of CheckMate, a synthetic pheromone, including CheckMate LBAM-F and CheckMate ORL-F. These have, apparently, been reformulated and the new versions have not undergone long-term studies for safety on humans. The idea is that the chemical - a synthetic pheromone - disrupts the moth's mating habits. But according to testimony by botanist Daniel Harder, there is no evidence that this method actually works.

Another issue is that the manufacturer of CheckMate is not legally required to disclose the full ingredient list of the formulation to be used. The chemicals are encapsulated in plastic, which are then easily inhaled and embedded in the lungs. Download material safety data sheets on CheckMate.

The Health Effects
As far as I've read, the government has no intention of implementing a monitoring system to track the potential health impact of the spray. Nor did they implement a formal tracking system when they sprayed the Monterey population last year. The admittedly incomplete studies done after the fact there revealed over 600 reports of adverse affects. Nor have there been any long-term studies of the health impact on a human population exposed to such chemicals. However, the CheckMate label itself reads "Potentially harmful if swallowed, absorbed through skin, or inhaled."

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Spraying Locations

Even if you don't live in California, you ought to be concerned about the State's plans to aerially spray its urban populations with chemicals. The USDA has initiated a survey of all 50 states to locate other potential LBAM populations. Since governments notoriously work from the status quo, it's highly likely that whatever actions California takes to handle this moth will set the precedent throughout the country.

CDFA will spray acreage in the following counties:

Beginning June 1, 2008:

Monterey and Santa Cruz counties including:
  • Aptos
  • Aromas
  • Ben Lomond
  • Boulder Creek
  • Castroville
  • Corralitos
  • Del Rey Oaks
  • Felton
  • Los Lomas
  • Marina
  • Monterey
  • Pajaro
  • Pebble Beach
  • Prunedale
  • Rio Del Mar
  • Santa Cruz
  • Scotts Valley
  • Seaside
  • Watsonville

California Food and Agriculture Department Aerial Pesticide Spray Map of Geographic Spray Zones

Beginning August 1, 2008:
  • San Francisco
  • Alameda
    Albany
    Emeryville
    Oakland
    Piedmont
  • Contra Costa
    El Cerrito
    El Sobrante
    Hercules
    Pinole
    Richmond
  • Marin
    Belvedere
    Larkspur
    Sausalito
    Tiburon
  • San Mateo
    Broadmoor
    Brisbane
    Colma
    Daly City
    Pacifica
    San Bruno
    South San Francisco

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