A small group of protesters, including Mayor Pat Reichenberger and Councilwoman Judy Chu, gathered at City Hall on Tuesday night as helicopters flew overhead and sprayed malathion on a 23-square-mile area that encompassed Monterey Park, Rosemead, South El Monte and San Gabriel.
Despite growing criticism in Monterey Park, the aerial attacks on the Medfly went on as scheduled this week by the Los Angeles County Agricultural Commission, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the state Food and Agriculture Department.
Monday night, the City Council unanimously voted to send telegrams to Los Angeles County supervisors, Gov. George Deukmejian and other state officials this week, demanding that the spraying stop until studies of its effects on human health are complete.
At Tuesday’s protest, resident Steve Heimple called the spraying unnecessary.
“Malathion, in my opinion, is a disastrous, toxic substance that can destroy wildlife and hinder human health,” Heimple said.
Resident Terry Chen said: “You have to educate the people. You can spray all the time, but it won’t make a difference because people are not educated. The important thing to do is to have a neighborhood meeting and tell the people the problem. . . . Every time they spray, I feel like vomiting.”
County agriculture and health officials say the chemical poses minimal health hazards.
“Malathion has a record of safety,” said Bill Edwards, chief deputy of the Agricultural Commission. “It’s been studied for 40 years. . . . People have a whole concept that’s contrary to the way we apply it. We’re only putting 2.8 ounces of malathion per acre.
“Malathion has been registered to use on children for head lice and on dogs for fleas. It has an outstanding record.”
But at Monday’s council meeting, Reichenberger said she researched the pesticide for nearly two weeks and found that no one could answer her questions about the effects of malathion spraying.
“I called researchers, doctors, the U.S. Army and groups that had done some testing,” Reichenberger said. “There are 10 pesticides, and six out of 10 have incomplete data. I resent this because they are using us as human guinea pigs.
“I don’t want to look (back) five or 10 years from now and say, ‘Hey! It’s like (the controversial apple pesticide) Alar,’ ” she said.
Resident Phyllis Rabins told the council that residents had little power to change the decision to spray.
“The agriculture department’s mentality is spray now and worry about a little bit of cancer and health problems later,” she said.
In the telegram sent to Deukmejian, state officials and county supervisors Tuesday, Reichenberger wrote: “The unanimous opinion of the Monterey Park City Council is that the potential health hazards to humans resulting from exposure to malathion insecticide must be adequately studied before more malathion applications are undertaken in Los Angeles County.”
Randy Toler, chairman of the U.S. Green Party, a political party that focuses on environmental issues, was also at Tuesday night’s protest.
“The aerial spraying should be stopped,” he said. “I don’t think that everything is being done to control the infestation.”
Toler said an alternative to malathion spraying would be to increase production of sterile Medflies.
But Paul Papanek, chief of the toxics epidemiology program at the county Department of Health Services, said there are no alternatives to the spraying.
“It would be hard to find another pesticide that has a lower risk than malathion,” Papanek said.
At the council meeting, Chu said many questions were still unanswered.
“I feel uncomfortable (about) us being sprayed without more knowledge about the effects are malathion,” Chu said. “I know I’ve had more calls . . . about malathion being sprayed on the playgrounds and children possibly getting it on their hands, then putting it into their mouths. And of course, everybody asks the question: Why is it that malathion is bad for your car paint but OK for humans?”
Monterey Park is the first city in California to protest aerial spraying, Reichenberger said.