October 21, 2007

Governor orders moth spray ingredients released

TOM RAGAN and julie copeland

SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered the California Department of Food and Agriculture on Saturday to release the list of ingredients in the pheromone that will be sprayed on Santa Cruz and Monterey counties to eradicate the light brown apple moth.

The governor's decision follows a judge's ruling Friday to lift a temporary restraining order that will allow the state to resume spraying.

Previously, the Oregon company that manufactures CheckMate -- the pheromone that will be used on the moth -- said the ingredients were trade secrets, covered by state and federal law.

The governor made it clear Saturday he supports the eradication program and thinks the product's ingredients should be disclosed "to the maximum extent possible under U.S. trademark law," A.G. Kawamura, the state's Food and Agriculture secretary, said in a statement accompanying the governor's announcement.

"The governor supports the public's right to know every ingredient in the product and is confident that full disclosure will confirm what my department, the California Environmental Protection Agency and California Department of Pesticide Regulation established before treatment began -- that CheckMate LBAM-F is nontoxic to humans, plants, animals and insects."

Friday, Monterey County Superior Court Judge Robert A. O'Farrell lifted a court-ordered ban instituted Oct. 10 on the state's aerial spraying. The judge ruled that Helping Our Peninsula's Environment, a Carmel environmental group, failed to prove that one of the Suterra's pesticides, CheckMate OLR-F, was responsible for sickening more than 100 people on the Monterey Peninsula in late September after the state sprayed 60 acres there.

The judge said he imposed the ban because he initially thought CheckMate OLR-F contained a potentially harmful chemical. The CheckMate ingredients were mistakenly provided to the Sentinel in late September by the EPA, which set in motion a series of lawsuit filings by Suterra to protect their secrecy. Suterra sued the Sentinel and the Monterey County Weekly for publishing those ingredients. The suit was dropped Friday. The EPA later said the chemical was a starter compound, not found in the final composition.

HOPE claimed CheckMate OLR-F was making people sick, including wheezing, coughing, sore throats and asthma. David Dilworth, executive director of HOPE, did not return calls seeking comment Saturday but has said his group will not immediately appeal the judge's decision to lift the ban.

Santa Cruz City Councilman Ed Porter called the governor's move "pretty cool, but I don't know if I'm in favor of spraying, though. I think time should be taken and an analysis should be done, but we've only got two weeks and it's a lot of chemistry we have to look at, and it's going to be complicated. ... I would hope that the governor would postpone the spraying project."

Mary-Ann Warmerdam, director of Cal-EPA's Department of Pesticide Regulation, said "California has what is considered the strictest and most comprehensive state pesticide regulatory program in the nation. My department will continue to assist the LBAM task force [established in Thursday's court hearing] in performing further analysis and monitoring to ensure that the community's concerns are fully considered."

The Public Health Science Task Force, consisting of scientists from the departments of the California EPA, including the state Department of Pesticide Regulation and state Department of Public Health, will review all health- and environmental-related issues surrounding the use of CheckMate.

CheckMate OLR-F will not be sprayed on the peninsula again. Instead the state will use CheckMate LBAM-F. That's the formula the governor ordered released Saturday and what will be sprayed over parts of both Santa Cruz and Monterey counties this month and next. The pesticides are similar, though the pheromones -- think of them as perfumes -- are different. The pheromone in CheckMate LBAM-F is BHT [butylated hydroxytoluene], a common food additive found in things like cereal.

The active ingredients of the pesticide are mostly water-based pheromones, which replicate the scent of a female. The pheromones, which will be sprayed from planes 500 to 800 feet overhead, confuse the male moths, disrupting the mating process.

In the face of some public dissent, the state says the moth infestation is an emergency that must be stopped soon to spare California's agriculture economy. The moth, native to Australia, is capable of causing up to $640 million in damages to crops a year if left unchecked, the state says.

The highest known concentration of the light brown apple moth in the state is in Live Oak and Soquel, with more than 7,500 trapped. The state says the moth has the potential to damage 250 crops and more than 1,000 plants including the Central Coast cypress, redwoods, oaks and other varieties found in urban and suburban landscaping, public parks and the natural environment. Among the list of agricultural crops on the moth's diet are grapes, citrus and stone fruits. The pest damages plants and crops by feeding on leaves, new shoots and fruit.

Aerial treatment on the Monterey Peninsula is set to resume Wednesday and continue through Saturday. Spraying in North Monterey and parts of Santa Cruz County is slated to take place Nov. 4-9.

As part of the judge's ruling Thursday, the state agreed to establish public outreach and response programs including:

A Web site with information about the moth, which can be found at www.cdfa.ca.gov/LBAM.

An e-mail subscription service -- under development -- with real-time information.

An e-mail and phone hot line to log health complaints to be monitored daily: LBAM@cdfa.ca.gov, [800] 491-1899, ext. 0. The hot line will log health complaints, which will be compiled and analyzed by a medical toxicologist. Complaints could be forwarded to the local county agricultural commissioner for investigation or the county public health officer.

Fact sheets addressing health and science issues are being developed for distribution and posting on the Web site.

Community meetings have been set and mailers sent to all homes in the affected communities.

Aerial treatment maps will be posted on the Web site showing the previous night's spray path. The maps will present a schematic showing each 100-foot wide path the planes make. Each pass will receive a single spray of treatment; nozzles are turned on and off using a computerized system guided by GPS technology.

The ag department has arranged to send e-mail updates to subscribers announcing intended areas of treatment, weather permitting. The morning after the treatment, follow-up e-mails will be sent to subscribers with results of the applications. E-mails will include a link to a map showing the progress of the treatment. Those interested in receiving e-mail updates may sign up at: http://www.cdfa.ca.gov/phpps/PDEP/lbam/lbam_main.html

Contact Tom Ragan at tragan@santacruzsentinel.com and Julie Copeland at jcopeland@santacruzsentinel.com.