Medfly War Winding Down, Official Says : Malathion: Sylmar will probably be first community dropped from regular pesticide spraying. Malathion foes worry move might be public relations.


Malathion spraying will probably end in Sylmar after one more dose later this week, and other San Fernando Valley communities also could be phased out of the state's pesticide blitz by early May, an official overseeing the Medfly eradication program said Monday.

Valley malathion foes greeted the announcement with skepticism.

No evidence of the destructive Mediterranean fruit fly has been found in Sylmar for nearly six months, or about two life cycles of the fly, indicating that aerial malathion spraying is no longer necessary in the 17-square-mile area, said Dr. Isi Siddiqui, assistant director of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

A new shipment of sterile flies, which will probably take over the battle from the controversial pesticide elsewhere in the Valley, is expected to arrive from Hawaii the first week in May, he said. The flies, sterilized by radiation in laboratories, mate with wild flies and prevent them from reproducing.

A 47-square-mile area--including parts of Panorama City, Burbank, North Hollywood and Sylmar--is tentatively scheduled to be sprayed Friday with 2,590 gallons of pesticide. The area was to have been treated Monday night, but the spraying was postponed because of rain.

Another spraying over Verdugo Hills, including portions of Glendale and Burbank, is scheduled for Thursday, a state spokeswoman said.

Unless there is a new Medfly find in Sylmar, Friday probably will be the last time the helicopters spray that area, Siddiqui said.

Three mature Medflies were found in Sylmar in October, but none have been found since, he said. The lack of any subsequent evidence of the insect will be presented at a meeting of the agriculture department's Medfly Science Advisory Panel on Wednesday as grounds for canceling Sylmar spraying, Siddiqui said.

The recommendation must be approved by the director of the state Food and Agriculture Department, Henry Voss, he said.

Opponents of malathion spraying said they were not reassured by Siddiqui's statement.

"They said in 1981 and 1984 that there would be no more spraying, and they said that every time they sprayed, because the state refused to admit that the Medfly will never be eradicated, that it's established in our environment," said Adelaide Nimitz of Burbank, president of Families Opposed to Chemical Urban Spraying.

"It's like the cockroach," Nimitz continued. "It's just there, and other countries have learned to live with it."

"I'm happy my kids won't be sprayed anymore," said Susan Spector of North Hollywood, a founder of Mothers and Others Opposed to Malathion Spraying.

"Am I convinced the fly was eradicated? No way."

Critics noted that Sylmar represents only a fraction of the more than 380 square miles in Los Angeles and Orange counties undergoing malathion spraying, calling for the entire pesticide program to be canceled. Opponents complain that the chemical mist, which agriculture authorities say is harmless to humans, irritates throats and eyes, and may have dangerous but unknown long-term effects.

"I think you'll find that, community by community, it will be phased out," Spector said. She said she thought the announcement of local spraying cancellations "is a way to break malathion groups apart" by weakening grass-roots unity.

"I feel the entire program should be stopped," Spector said, "and the only way they can do that and keep ag-business happy is to claim they haven't found any new Medflies."

Nimitz agreed. "They are bombarding the media with propaganda, trying to tear apart the work we have done, trying to get people to back off and think that there will not be spraying. . . . Because the most pressure they have gotten is from this part of the Valley--Glendale, North Hollywood, Studio City and, certainly, Burbank."

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