There is a frightening scene from an Alfred Hitchcock thriller in which the hero, played by Cary Grant, is being relentlessly pursued by a crop-duster.
The residents of Garden Grove and neighboring communities recently experienced firsthand the crop-dusting of their homes with a pesticide called malathion in an attempt to eradicate a tiny pest called the Medfly.
Judging from reactions of residents, the Hitchcock scene is no more frightening or dramatic than what is actually occurring in their communities. They have received virtually no information on the risks associated with the poison, only hollow attempts by state officials to persuade them that there is no health risk to humans--but please cover your automobiles because the chemical will damage your paint.
What are people supposed to think? Their concern should not be written off as hysteria when it is motivated by reason, so why is the government treating it as such?
In Santa Clara County in 1981, a similar situation plagued both citizens and government officials. The Medfly was also the culprit then, creating a serious threat to the California agricultural industry, and again malathion spraying was determined to be the most expedient method of eradicating the insect. A groundswell of protests ensued, primarily from mothers and mothers-to-be, and the spraying was temporarily halted.
The Medfly problem persisted and assurances from the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Cancer Institute and the California Department of Health Services convinced the state Supreme Court that the pesticide posed no significant risk to humans. Of course, all of the organizations mentioned do receive federal funds, and spraying is relatively inexpensive compared to other measures.
Given this, plus the fact that even EPA officials have admitted that there are some significant data gaps in these reports, some skepticism is warranted. However, these are reputable organizations and most people would be at least somewhat comforted if they were aware of this same information.
Why aren't the people of Orange County being made aware? Could it be that under close scrutiny the studies could prove to be seriously flawed? It is inconceivable that with no studies or documentation presented to the public, the state government could expect to pursue a course that many feel could be detrimental to their health and not expect a public outcry!
The relative economic and health risks on both sides of the issue should be brought to the public before any proposed solution is implemented. We elect our officials with the expectation that they will look after our best interests, and it is their job to keep us informed of potential health risks that directly affect our communities.
The state government tells us that spraying is in "our" best interest. The validity of this statement rests on the interpretation of "our." If "our" represents the state and its Department of Agriculture, then the answer is yes.
Is this actually the case? On the one hand, it is easy to see how important the agricultural industry is to California. In the 1981 Medfly crisis, the $14-billion-a-year industry faced a genuinely serious situation when other states boycotted California fruit. Attempts to eradicate by the introduction of sterile male flies backfired when it was discovered that at least 200,000 of these flies, purchased from a Peruvian source, had not been sterile after all. The economic implications of this situation are obvious.
But on the other hand, could the current situation be a case of overreaction on the part of the state? Imagine this: One pregnant Medfly is found in a trap in Garden Grove. A second Medfly is found a little later, also in Garden Grove. Without consulting city officials, a state of emergency is declared which allows the state to dump chemicals on Garden Grove and neighboring communities.
If we really do have an emergency, why not dump this completely safe chemical on the whole county? Why is Disneyland excluded from the spraying when it is only 2.5 miles from the Medfly discovery site?
Economics. Tourists are not going to take their children to the amusement park after it has been sprayed. Why not dump the chemicals on the governor's home? Political clout. The citizens who are being sprayed do not have the economic backing that would give them a voice in Sacramento.
If these allegations are valid, and the state has given us no reason to believe otherwise, how seriously can the state be taken when a state of emergency is declared? Medflies do not recognize economic boundaries and neither should the state.
In Santa Clara and San Mateo counties just nine years ago, all efforts to block spraying, even with the blessings of then-Gov. Jerry Brown, failed. Why should the outcome be different today when Gov. George Deukmejian is part of the opposition? Perhaps the difference will be in the fact that the current groundswell of protests is coming from within the Republican heartland: Orange County.
The issue seems to have struck a similar chord in both Republicans and Democrats. They are demanding some answers, and as concerned citizens and taxpayers, have a right to them.
The residents of Garden Grove, Huntington Beach, Santa Ana, Cypress, Westminster and other cities both directly and indirectly affected by the spraying have a vested interest in this issue that really transcends politics and economics: the health and welfare of their families.
Now it is our responsibility as citizens to watch closely the actions and/or inactions of our state and local officials, and arm ourselves with the only legal weapon at our disposal: the vote.