East Bay cities fight moth spraying

March 17, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
A major fight is taking shape over the attempt to stop the spread of the crop-destroying light brown apple moth. On Tuesday, attorneys from several East Bay cities will discuss a possible lawsuit to stop this summer's aerial spraying.

"We have a tremendous amount of good tools. Very environmentally sensitive," said A.G. Kawamura, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. He reached out to convince El Cerrito city leaders that aerial spraying to eradicate the light brown apple moth is safe.

"I would say now, that message is not getting out very clearly," said Letitia Moore, an El Cerrito City Council Member.

It's not the first time Kawamura's team has been met by skepticism. On Tuesday, a coalition of cities is meeting to plan a legal strategy against aerial spraying over the densely populated East Bay. Monday night, the Berkeley City Council also decided to join the coalition which includes Albany, Emeryville, Alameda, and Oakland.

"Do we go after the Clean Water Act, do we look at endangered species, what is the best approach? Because we're really concerned about this spraying," said Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates.

"These are pheromone. A pheromone is a scent. It's not a true insecticide, it doesn't kill anything," said Kawamura.

State agriculture entomologist, Robert Dowell says delaying the aerial spray will mean certain infestation. "And people are going to use what ever tools are available, primarily insecticides to control that. And the last thing we want is yet another insect in California that people are going to spray," said Dowell.

However, UC Berkeley entomologist, Miguel Alteiri, says it's not about damaged plants and flowers. He says the state is feeling pressure on its ability to export crops.

"If they find a live insect a pest insect, which is called a quarantine insect, basically they are not allowed to come into any country, then they will reject the shipments and that will be millions of dollars in losses," said Professor Altieri.

The state says there is an alternative to spraying, the pheromone twist tie. But it would take 100 million twist ties to do the job.

It's not the pheromone itself that has city leaders concerned, it's the inert material attached to the pheromone, for spraying purposes, that is raising questions. And so far there are no studies on its affect on humans.