Tag Archives: aerial pesticide spraying

Bay Area Shock and Awe?

The SF Chronicle reports a plan for aerial spraying of pesticides over Bay Area cities — including San Francisco, Oakland, Emeryville, and Tiburon — to combat a potential threat of infestation by the little known   light brown apple moth, an exotic  agricultural pest.  The spraying is proposed to occur at night, starting in August, 2008, and continuing over as much as a five year duration  The chemical agent — Checkmate — contains a pheromone ingredient to disrupt mating of the moths, as well as other inert ingredients, whose identities, while partially known or suspected, may also constitute a protected trade secret.

Despite local protests and a court injunction (later overturned) spraying has already occurred in Monterey County, where, despite assurances of product safety, some adverse health effects have been reported.  Further details appear in the Chronicle story.

My initial response to this story was incredulity mixed with outrage, but I am not asking you to share my views, which I will elaborate below.  At the outset let me state my qualifications: I am a Ph. D. biochemist, trained in nucleic  acid physical chemistry, currently working in the field of analytical instrumentation.  That doesn’t make me an expert on pheromones or insect physiology, but it does, I hope,  establish a certain baseline competence.

Why am I upset about this project?  First, the use of the pesticide agent, Checkmate is being rammed through the usual regulatory channels.  Allow me to  quote from the Chronicle article:

The U.S. Department of Agriculture obtained an “emergency exemption from registration” from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that allows the agency to use the pesticide in aerial sprays over California cities. Because of that exemption, the spraying program isn’t subject to state approval, according to representatives of the state Department of Pesticide Regulation.

Second, as reported in the Chronicle, the effects on human an animal health remain in question, but are quite possibly negative.

Third, the moth is not yet established as a bona fide threat in the area.

Fourth, the spraying  is essentially an uncontrolled biological experiment performed in a highly populated urban area, where we may count, among the many unknowns, the lifetime and tenacity of the agent in the environment.

Fifth, the decision, although nominally taken at the state level, seems to have had strong advisory component from the US Department of Agriculture.  This nexus of state and federal authorities I find troubling, under the circumstances.

Sixth, I cannot force myself to ignore the possibility that there is a hidden political agenda in a decision which I see as harmful to whole Bay Area — which has been markedly unpopular in the corridors of power over the last several years.  Forgive me for indulging in conspiracy theory, but under the circumstances, I refuse to entirely discount such possibly sinister motives.

Finally, for those who wish to become active in opposing this program, I recommend the following: