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Winds Could Blow Tonight’s Plan for Medfly Spraying

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If winds permit, parts of this and two neighboring cities tonight will become Orange County’s first battlefield in the fight against the Mediterranean fruit fly when state officials spray gallons of pesticide from the skies in an effort to thwart the notorious insect.

That could be a big if.

State agriculture officials said Wednesday that they may not be able to proceed as scheduled with the first-ever malathion spraying in Orange County if winds exceed 5 m.p.h., for fear of spreading the pesticide beyond the 10 square-mile target area. The spot to be sprayed encompasses parts of Brea, La Habra and Fullerton.

National Weather Service forecasters in Los Angeles said that the Santa Ana winds that have been sweeping through the area in the past few days should have diminished today, but they were still predicting wind speeds of between 10 and 15 m.p.h. for the North County area and speeds of up to 25 m.p.h. in canyons and passes.

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“It won’t be completely calm,” meteorologist Jerry Steiger said of today’s weather.

A mixture of malathion and protein bait is to be sprayed over tens of thousands of yards and businesses in an effort to stop the spread of the Medfly. State and county officials say the mixture poses no health hazards to humans.

The Medfly poses a powerful threat to a wide range of crops. It has been found with alarming frequency this summer and fall in other parts of the Southland, prompting 10 pesticide sprayings since August. It surfaced in Orange County on Nov. 17, when a fertile fly was discovered in a guava tree in Brea.

Two specially outfitted Bell 204 helicopters will do the spraying, which is scheduled to last from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. State officials, however, say they can wait until minutes before takeoff time from El Monte Airport for a final determination.

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Should the spaying be postponed, the estimated 30,000 to 40,000 homes and businesses in the affected area would be notified through the media. The county’s Medfly hot line, (714) 490-5240, also will be open through the night.

“The bottom line is safety,” said Dorthea Zadig, deputy director of the state’s Medfly Project in El Monte. Her office has been very busy in recent months, as this year’s outbreak has been the worst since the 1981 infestation, which ravaged the state’s agricultural economy.

“If the helicopter pilots don’t think it’s safe, and we see there’s going to be drift because of the wind, then we’ll postpone,” Zadig said.

State and Orange County officials were nevertheless moving ahead Wednesday with plans for the spraying, checking target area boundaries, preparing the helicopters and fielding more than a hundred calls from the public.

“The wind is certainly a concern, and right now it does seem a question mark,” county Agricultural Commissioner James Harnett said Wednesday. “But we hope we can make a go of this and not disrupt people’s lives any more than we have to. We’ll have to wait and see” about tonight.

Some resident, meanwhile, were making preparations of their own.

Blanche Bobrick of La Habra was putting a plastic covering over her patio swing to prevent staining. Eric Norseth was trying to figure out how to cover the family’s four cars. And Vicki Marlow of Brea was planning to make sure her dog, which normally stays out at night, would be in the garage.

“This is definitely a concern,” Marlow said about the spraying. “I don’t like it.”

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TONIGHT’S MEDFLY SPRAYING

Agriculture officials advise that should the spraying to eradicate the fruit fly go ahead as planned, residents in the affected parts of Brea, Fullerton and La Habra take precautions. Spraying is scheduled to begin at 9 p.m., but it may be postponed for another night should wind speeds exceed 5 m.p.h. Winds of up to 15 m.p.h. have been forecast.

BEFORE AND DURING THE SPRAYING:

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 the eyes, but no other short-term effect is likely. The semisweet mixture of malathion and corn syrup is released in droplets too large to inhale. Its toxicity is equivalent to that of laundry detergent, officials say.

Cover cars parked outside. The 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. Officials say pool owners should not worry because the pesticide will not significantly affect the water quality in a standard-size pool.

ABOUT THE SPRAYING:

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The tiny droplets to be sprayed in North County are from a mixture that is about three-quarters protein-corn syrup bait, to lure the fruit flies, and one-quarter malathion, the pesticide being used to kill them. About 12 ounces per square mile will be applied over the target area.

Although the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered new tests of malathion to try to resolve questions about its effect on human health, state officials assert that it is “one of the safest insecticides in use today.” State officials say that the low doses used in aerial spraying pose no health threat to anyone exposed--including pregnant women, infants, children, the elderly and the chronically ill. They also say that no one should have any reservations about going outside after the spraying is completed. Animals--with the exception of fish, which are considered very susceptible--should not be affected either, officials say.

AFTER THE SPRAYING:

The next morning, all patio furniture, play equipment, tools and household items left outdoors during the spraying should be hosed down. If a car has been sprayed, it should be washed with soap and water afterward.

Source: State and Orange County agriculture officials


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