Repeated Medfly Spraying Is Generating a Howl


Signs of political discontent in the San Gabriel Valley over Mediterranean fruit fly eradication efforts surfaced Monday as local and state officials lashed out against repeated pesticide spraying in their districts and called on the governor to delay applications until further health studies are completed.

In Alhambra, Assemblyman Charles Calderon (D-Whittier) called a special hearing to debate the safety of malathion spraying and at the conclusion of testimony decried state planning to fight the notorious pest as "simply patchwork and stopgap."

A school board representing 7,500 San Gabriel Valley children fired off a letter to the governor demanding a halt to aerial spraying because "children can ingest this chemical" while playing on schoolyard equipment.

On a motion by Mayor Pat Reichenberger, the Monterey Park City Council on Monday night voted 5 to 0 to send telegrams to Gov. George Deukmejian and Los Angeles County supervisors voicing their objections to the aerial spraying.

Officials said Monday they had no plans to stop aerial spraying tonight and Wednesday over a large swath of East Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley and, in fact, were drawing boundaries for three new spraying zones in Eagle Rock, Monrovia and South Gate.

The new zones will be announced today or Wednesday, officials said. The sectors will include a 16-mile-area encompassing Eagle Rock to be sprayed on Dec. 5, and a nine-square-mile area taking in Monrovia on Dec. 6. A six-square-mile area encompassing South Gate will be sprayed Dec. 7.

Deukmejian on Monday showed no signs of backing down from his promise to farmers to do "whatever is necessary" to prevent spread of the Medfly, which threatens the state's multibillion-dollar agricultural industry. "The governor is absolutely convinced that we have to do everything that we possibly can to combat this very stubborn and tenacious infestation . . . ," said press secretary Kevin Brett.

Los Angeles County is in the midst of fighting an unprecedented Medfly infestation over a broad area that extends from the East San Fernando Valley through the San Gabriel Valley. With resources stretched to the limits, officials said that residents in most of the infested areas should prepare for repeated pesticide spraying.

The infestation spread to northern Orange County last week and state workers in and around Brea went door-to-door Monday distributing more than 30,000 flyers in areas to be sprayed Thursday.

The increased reliance on the pesticide to kill the Medfly, rather than the release of sterile flies to breed the population out of existence, prompted more than 100 calls to Calderon's office from residents worried about health effects of the spraying.

Calderon said he is concerned over an order from the Environmental Protection Agency to further study potential hazards of malathion. The federal agency ordered the additional studies last February because some previous reviews were flawed and one pointed to the possibility of increased liver cancer in mice fed high doses of the chemical.

At the hearing in Alhambra on Monday afternoon, state and county officials repeated their findings that malathion poses no significant health threat to humans, because it is applied at low dosages.

"We've periodically reviewed (Malathion) and we feel it is the safest material available for an urban eradication program," said Dr. James Stratten of the state Department of Health Services.

EPA scientist Dan Schoenholz said the additional studies are "routine" and were ordered because of updated testing standards, rather than safety concerns.

Calderon lashed out against agricultural officials relying too heavily on pesticide spraying.

"We are in a constant state of siege with the spraying, and I don't see them looking for other solutions," he said.

Officials of the Garvey School District--which serves Rosemead and parts of Monterey Park and South San Gabriel--urged Deukmejian to delay aerial spraying "until conclusive evidence is presented which verifies that it is indeed harmless to humans and especially to children."

In his letter, school district Supt. John Avila said that malathion, which is mixed with a sticky bait, "clings to everything, including playground equipment, and is difficult to wash off. Young children could ingest this chemical when they put their hands in their mouth after playing on the equipment.

BATTLING THE MEDFLY Los Angeles County will conduct aerial spraying of malathion today.

Area: 23 square miles encompassing Rosemead, San Gabriel, South El Monte, El Monte and parts of Monterey Park, San Marino, Arcadia and Temple City.

Time: 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. Wednesday.

Precautions: Stay indoors; keep animals indoors; wash animal dishes and toys left outside; cover cars; keep doors and windows closed.

Information: Toll-free numbers for the Agricultural Commissioner: (800) 356-2894; (800) 225-1346.

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