Citizens in California expressed anger recently when state health officials denied that aerial pesticide spraying over three counties last fall had triggered 463 illness complaints filed shortly thereafter. The spray consisted of a product known as “Checkmate,” intended to control brown gypsy moths. According to a report just issued by the California Office of Health Hazard Assessment, “scientists were unable to find a link between aerial spraying and illness complaints.”
Ironically, the report admits that, “The toxicity data on the pheromones and on microencapsulated products suggest the possibility that exposure to a sufficient amount of airborne Checkmate microcapsule particles could result in some level of eye, skin, or respiratory irritation.” Considering that virtually all of the complaints filed specifically cited respiratory symptoms, it seems “interesting” that no link to the spraying was found.
The report claims that causality can’t be established because proper tests don’t exist to diagnose effects of exposure, because the exact time of the exposure wasn’t recorded in most instances, and because respiratory problems are quite common in the general population. And anyway, says the report, “Because the application rate was extremely low, it is likely that exposure occurred at levels below those that would be expected to result in health effects.”
“Bogus!” cry area environmental groups in response, pointing out that the health officials didn’t even bother to measure contamination levels in the soil, water, or air of the affected regions after spraying. Nor did they interview any of the affected people or their physicians. Environmental attorney Stephen Volker says, “It is a sad commentary on the agency that is supposed to ‘watchdog’ pesticide spray that, instead of interviewing the spray victims and following up on their leads, OEHHA issued a press release dismissing their illnesses because the forms on which their reports were submitted do not provide enough information to establish causation. Yet these are OEHHA’s own forms …”
The entire debacle brings back memories of malathion spraying in the 80’s and 90’s, when the government also downplayed public concerns. At that time,malathion was sprayed by helicopter over thousands of square miles in order to control fruit flies. In California, as elsewhere throughout the country, health officials issued reassurances: ”This stuff has been around for 40 years and study after study has shown it doesn’t harm people,” said Gera Curry, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Food and Agriculture in a New York Times article. Eight years later, in Florida, entomologist John Capinera issued a similar statement after malathion was widely sprayed throughout several local counties: “Malathion has been used for medfly eradication before, and we know it can be done with no long-term effect,” he said.
In spite of the head patting from the government, many citizens and environmental groups expressed concern back then. But predictably, the state retorted with the familiar, “it’s too small a dose to do any harm” argument.” The dosage is the important thing and the amount we use is so small it’s almost infinitesimal,” said Gera Curry, another California Food and Agriculture department agent.
Do we now have déjà vu all over again? Let’s hope not, because malathion has recently been strongly linked to a host of serious illnesses, including Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, endocrine disorders, developmental and nervous system disorders, kidney issues, cancers, and immune disorders. So much for governmental reassurances! Unfortunately, governments tend to ignore public outcry about the health effects of pesticides until widespread damage has been done.
The moral of the story here is that it’s up to you to protect yourself against public spraying. As we head into bug season, the toxins will no doubt start flying from the spray trucks and overhead helicopters, wherever you live. If you don’t want clouds of spray covering your street, check nospray.org for ideas on how to proceed. And if there’s nothing you can do to stop the public spray programs, at least stay inside with windows closed during spraying episodes, and remember to detox regularly to rid your body of toxic residue.