N. County Prepares for Aerial Spray

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

State agriculture officials on Monday blanketed North County homes and businesses with 40,000 bulletins aimed at easing any public concerns over this week's historic plan for aerial spraying to combat a Mediterranean fruit fly infestation.

Officials also urged residents in Brea, Fullerton and La Habra to keep their fruit at home and backed up their appeals with this directive: Under a quarantine imposed earlier this month, anyone caught transporting fruit outside the 50-square-mile area could face fines of up to $10,000.

Pointing to the devastation wrought on the state's agriculture in 1981 by the persistent Medfly, Orange County Agriculture Commissioner James D. Harnett said: "History has shown that we can't sit back and let this problem fester. There's a lot at risk here . . . and we're pulling out all the stops on this one."

In addition to the pesticide spray planned for Thursday evening, the first ever in Orange County, state and local officials have also set an additional 1,500 Medfly traps in the North County region. It is part of a $150,000, state-financed effort to track and stop the possible spread of the insect in Orange County.

The extraordinary measures were prompted by the discovery of a pregnant Medfly in a guava tree in Brea 11 days ago. It was considered an expansion of an increasingly widespread infestation that stretches across much of Los Angeles County from the eastern San Fernando Valley through the San Gabriel Valley.

In Orange County, officials now are planning to use two specially outfitted Bell 204 helicopters late Thursday night to spray the pesticide, malathion, over a 10-square-mile area of North County that immediately surrounds the spot where the fly was discovered.

Local agriculture planners had talked last week of needing two, perhaps three, sprayings to get the job done. But Harnett said Monday that after further consultation with state officials, local planners realized that assumption may have been "erroneous" and now believe that one trip "should get it done."

Strong winds such as the 35-mile-an-hour gusts experienced Monday across much of Orange County could put the aerial spraying in jeopardy. County officials said winds in excess of 3 to 5 m.p.h. may force a delay.

In part because of the limited appearance to date of the Medfly in Orange County, Harnett said: "We do have some time to work with. But we obviously want to get at this as quickly as we can."

If more flies show up after the spraying, officials may have to return to spray again with nozzle-equipped helicopters that can carry up to 180 gallons of the semisweet mixture of malathion and corn syrup.

But it could be weeks before agriculture officials know whether their efforts are successful.

"Every day that goes by with no new discovery (of a Medfly) is certainly important," said Frank Parsons, the county's chief deputy agriculture commissioner. "But we have to temper any enthusiasm with the reality that a fertile female could have laid eggs that may not hatch for five or six weeks."

During Thursday's planned spraying, residents in the affected areas of Brea, Fullerton and La Habra are being urged to stay indoors "if convenient"; to bring pets indoors and cover open water sources and cars to avoid exposure to pesticide droplets, and to wash home-grown fruit afterward.

The bulletin distributed door-to-door Monday by state workers in the affected North County neighborhoods stressed in both English and Spanish that "malathion is one of the safest insecticides in use today."

But some area residents remained unconvinced.

"I just don't like it," said college student Mark DiLalla, who lives with his family in Fullerton and came home to find the advisory Monday. "They pass out some literature and tell you it's safe, but who knows if it's going to harm the soil or the air?

"They should wait until they know more. Just because they found one Medfly in Brea, they're going to spray the whole place? It doesn't make any sense," he said.

Construction worker Keith Tucker of Brea added: "It bothers me. I just don't like the idea of chemicals being spread around the air. My wife is pregnant, and I don't want them discovering years from now that this (pesticide) causes birth defects or cancer or something."

Other area residents and city officials interviewed Monday voiced support for the spraying and other plans to head off the Medfly, saying that the pest's extreme threat may demand such strong action.

"Sure it's an inconvenience, but what are we going to do? At this point we've got to put ourselves in the hands of people who know better," La Habra City Manager Lee Risner said. "We're comfortable with the remedy."

THURSDAY'S MEDFLY SPRAY AREA

Agriculture officials have advised residents in parts of Brea, Fullerton and La Habra to take precautions before aerial pesticide spraying Thursday night to eradicate a Mediterranean fruit fly infestation.

Recommended steps include:

* Stay indoors if possible. Officials say the amount of pesticide used in the spray is small enough that contact with it will not cause any long-term health effects. It can be an irritant to eyes, but no other short-term effects are likely to result. The semisweet mixture of malathion and corn syrup is released in droplets too large to inhale. It has toxicity equivalent to laundry detergent, officials say.

* Cover cars that are parked outside. The malathion mixture may cause blemishes or discoloration to the finish or paint of some cars.

* Keep dogs, cats and other pets in garages or under cover.

* Shallow back-yard fish ponds should be covered. But officials say pool owners should not worry because the pesticide will not significantly affect the water quality in a standard-size pool.

* The next morning, all patio furniture, play equipment, tools and household items left outdoors during the spray should be hosed down.

Source: State and Orange County agriculture officials.

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