Does aerial biochemical spraying really work to control foreign species? Many communities extensively sprayed pesticides in an effort to control the spread of West Nile Virus, yet mosquitoes quickly spread this disease across the continental United States in just a few short years. Will aerial pesticide spraying combat the spread of the Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM), or is this moth even a threat?
The LBAM is a moth originating in Australia that has been recently found in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles. LBAM is also found in New Zealand, New Caledonia, Hawaii, and the British Isles. The moth does not have a dormancy period and development is continual. It is artificially spread through nursery plants, fresh produce, and green waste.
California officials fear LBAM poses a potential threat to the state’s agriculture, but their own projections state the greatest environmental impact as:
Establishment of this moth could cause direct environmental damage via increased pesticide use statewide by commercial and residential growers and via adverse feeding impacts on native plants.
That’s right, the pesticide used to control LBAM pose a risk that may be greater than the moth itself. I am all for protecting native plants and our food supply, but certainly there are alternatives to massive aerial spraying in residential areas every 30 days for up to ten years! In fact, the California Alliance to Stop the Spray reports:
Our collective concern has arisen out of the fact that the light brown apple moth (LBAM) eradication program currently underway in different parts of California utilizes a biochemical pesticide spray that has not undergone formal safety testing by either federal or state agencies, that the spray has never been sprayed on humans before, that the end goal of eradication will likely not be accomplished, and of particular concern, is the lack of an effective adverse effects monitoring system for assessing the potential for adverse human health effects.
Dr. Lawrence Rose, former Senior Public Medical Officer for Cal-OSHA and part of the UCSF Occupational/Environmental Medicine Department, warns, “Immediate short term acute health concerns are to be expected” from aerial spraying in Marin County. When LBAM aerial spraying occurred in Monterey last fall, residents complained of aches, pains, sniffles, sore throats, fevers and influenza-like symptoms. An 11-month baby was hospitalized with severe respiratory problems the day after spraying.
Is LBAM really a threat to California’s agriculture? According to Daniel Harder, Ph.D. Executive Director The Arboretum, University of California at Santa Cruz, “LBAM is considered a minor pest that does not cause economically significant crop damage or have detrimental effect on native flora.” The Light Brown Apple Moth has been in Hawaii for more than 100 years, and is not considered by the state to a “significant pest”. In fact, LBAM may be a biocontrol agent for invasive weeds, such as gorse and blackberry. Considering the threat is not so great, shouldn’t alternative methods of pest control be used?
In New Zealand, Dr. Harder found that LBAM populations are controlled with natural predators in both agricultural settings and wild lands. LBAM can be successfully managed with integrated pest management (IPM). In fact, Santa Barbara County plans to use pheromone-infused twist ties to disrupt the mating of LBAM. Pheromones are highly selective and only target LBAM, as well as pose no substantial environmental or human health threats when applied via twist ties and traps. This sounds like a much more logical approach than massive aerial spraying of herbicides or pheromones that will poison all life below, including sensitive marine life along the California coast.
Eradication of LBAM is not realistic, according to the Pesticide Action Network of North America (PANNA). Given the likelihood of reintroduction of LBAM, PANNA believes:
Sustainable, least-toxic ecological IPM (Integrated Pest Management) is the appropriate response. We encourage CDFA to continue focusing on least-toxic approaches such as pheromones, preditor [sic] wasps, sterile moth release and other biological control and to work with IPM experts and community members in developing a long-term sustainable pest management plan for LBAM.
There are currently five bills that have been introduced in the California Assembly related to this problem. AB 2892 (Swanson), the Aerial Spray Inform and Consent Act, would require a vote by affected residents before aerial spraying can occur. AB 2760 (Leno) calls for an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) before aerial application of pesticides. AB 2763 (Laird) requires advance planning for invasive species. AB2764 (Hancock) prohibits aerial spray of urban areas without a governor-declared state of emergency. AB2765 (Huffman) requires disclosure of pesticide ingredients, examination of alternatives to aerial spraying, and a public hearing. None of these bills require implementation of integrated pest management as the only means for controlling LABM. Let’s for once chose an approach that matches the problem at hand and not overreact at a cost to our health and environment.