Senate Medfly Bill Dies With Help From County Delegation


Orange County senators, some representing people outraged by repeated aerial sprayings of malathion, were either absent or voted against a proposal last week that would give their constituents added time to sue the state for health problems related to use of the pesticide.

Without support from the Orange County delegation, the proposal by Assemblyman Mike Roos (D-Los Angeles) fell three votes short of the 21-member majority needed for approval by the upper house. But backers of the bill said the measure will likely be revived.

State health experts have repeatedly said the aerial spraying of malathion to eradicate the Medfly in Orange County and other parts of Southern California is not endangering public health, although the pesticide is known to ruin the paint on cars left uncovered during the applications.

Roos and other anti-malathion legislators contend, however, that the experts have been wrong in the past--as in the cases of Agent Orange, Thalidomide and asbestos.


And they want to give residents ample time to sue the government and malathion manufacturers if medical problems are eventually traced to the pesticide.

The Roos bill does that by changing the deadline for filing such suits, which under current liability law is up to a year from the date the malathion is actually sprayed on the ground. The measure would extend the deadline to a year after an illness or a death is linked to the malathion spraying, no matter how long ago the aerial application was made.

Of the Orange County delegation, only Sen. Cecil N. Green (D-Norwalk) voted for the measure. Voting against it were Sens. Ed Royce (R-Anaheim) and Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach).

Bergeson and Royce said Friday they voted against the measure because they do not believe malathion poses a health problem and because the extended deadline would open the door for frivolous lawsuits against the state.

“California has too many lawsuits and too many lawyers, and this measure (would) cost taxpayers with frivolous lawsuits,” said Royce, whose central Orange County district includes Garden Grove and Anaheim, two communities that have been sprayed.

Although Royce said he does not believe the spraying poses a health threat, he is pushing his own solution to stop the aerial application--the use of sterile Medflies. The Royce bill, yet to come to the Senate floor, would spend $1 million to produce an additional 250 million sterile flies for possible release in infested areas.

Bergeson said she was also afraid the Roos measure would provide an “avenue for constant litigation, and frankly that’s an expense and hassle that the state doesn’t need right now.

“I would support the bill if there is information that malathion poses that threat,” she said. “But all of the information we have been given--and we’ve had document after document, and testimony--says that malathion in the doses that are administered is not dangerous and not a threat to human beings.”

Sen. John Seymour (R-Anaheim) did not vote on the malathion bill Thursday because he left the floor to catch a plane to Los Angeles for a televised debate with Bergeson, his opponent in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor. He said Friday that, although he has some questions about the measure, he would likely support it when it comes up for reconsideration.

“I have no problem whatsoever with the portion of the bill that gives extended time” for the lawsuits, he said.

Sen. Frank Hill (R-Whittier) was also recorded as absent or abstaining on the measure. Calls to his office Friday were not returned.

Roos said he is “very disappointed” in the no-shows or no votes from Orange County senators.

“Their counterparts in the Assembly are itching to vote on a bill to get themselves on the record against spraying or to say that we want an insurance policy in regard to these experts, who say there are no health risks,” Roos said.