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State Orders Aerial Spraying for El Cajon

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The state Friday ordered an emergency campaign of aerial malathion spraying in the El Cajon area later this month to attack an infestation of the crop-destroying Mexican fruit fly.

The spraying plan ordered by agriculture director Henry J. Voss requires the bare minimum of malathion sprayings, state officials said, but environmentalists in San Diego already were mobilizing Friday against the plan.

“They’re telling people that there’s no (health) problem, when they don’t have the tests done. Lack of data is not lack of danger,” said Sharon Taylor, pesticide reduction director for the 2,000-member Environmental Health Coalition.

The coalition is organizing opposition along with several other groups, including the California Public Interest Research Group, the Green Party and Greenpeace Action.

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Every two weeks beginning as early as May 21, helicopters will blanket 16 square miles of El Cajon and bordering eastern San Diego County with malathion spray, for a total of three times.

Ground spraying and confiscation of infested fruit also will be undertaken.

If no other adult flies are found in traps after those four weeks, 20 million sterile Mexflies will be released every week for 60 to 90 days after the last fertile fly is trapped. The sterile males, it is hoped, will breed with any females left after the malathion assault, keeping them from reproducing.

However, aerial malathion spraying could resume at any time if more fertile Mexflies are found. If so, the nights on which helicopters would spray would be at least doubled, under the county plan.

Voss’ action Friday followed by one day a declaration of similar action against the Mexican fruit fly in a 20-square-mile area of Compton, in Los Angeles County. Two male Mexflies were found there in the last two weeks.

Spraying to kill Medflies in Southern California began last July and has prompted vehement community protests. Nearly 470 square miles have been sprayed in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Orange and Riverside counties.

Voss acted in the El Cajon case because three mature Mexflies have been found in a single El Cajon neighborhood since April 25. He is asking Gov. George Deukmejian to declare an emergency. Approval by Deukmejian is expected early next week.

The emergency designation would not only allow the El Cajon spraying to begin quickly but also would eliminate the need for public hearings on the spray plan.

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Educational meetings will be held, though, perhaps as early as next Thursday, said Connie Smith, public information officer for the state Department of Food and Agriculture.

The Environmental Health Coalition’s Taylor expressed confidence that the spraying can be stopped, even though intense public opposition did not halt malathion spraying in Los Angeles.

“Up in L.A., they weren’t really informed and organized as well as we are. You should see the network that has already happened here,” she said.

Taylor said she plans to ask the helicopter pilots to refuse to fly their malathion missions.

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Meanwhile, reaction from political officials was tempered by recognition that they have little power to change the plan.

“We have no authority,” said El Cajon City Councilwoman Beverly Miller, who opposes the spraying. “All we can do is join with our constituents and make as much noise as possible.”

El Cajon Mayor John Reber said the council would probably discuss the spray plan at its meeting at 4 p.m. Tuesday.

Reber and Miller both noted that opposition to spraying has been negligible so far in their city, with only a handful of calls Friday.

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Assemblywoman Carol Bentley, an El Cajon Republican whose home is in the helicopters’ path, said she supports the eradication but wishes agricultural officials had planned better.

“I’m really disappointed that we’ve found this infestation, and also sorry that we haven’t made advance planning enough that we have sterile flies to release to try and control the problem” without aerial spraying, Bentley said.

San Diego City Councilwomen Linda Bernhardt called a press conference to say she would try to bring the malathion spraying issue before the San Diego council in the next two weeks.

None of the spray area is in San Diego city limits, but the city eventually could become subject to spraying, she said.

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The yellow-brown Mexican fruit fly is a pest found from Mexico to Central America. About the size of a housefly, it prefers citrus. Adult females use a sharp appendage on their rear to inject several eggs into the fruit, then move on to lay more eggs elsewhere, for a total of about 1,000.

The three-dose spray program would have an effectiveness against the adult flies of about five weeks, considered a full life cycle. It would kill existing adults as well as new flies emerging from pupae in the ground.

But, because the aerial spraying would not affect the eggs or larvae within fruit, sterile Mexflies would be brought in to mate with any flies that emerge over the next two generations of Mexflies.

TALK OF THE TOWN--El Cajon residents respond to the news of the aerial assault against the Mexfly. B1

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FEATURES OF THE MEXFLY PLAN Aerial malathion spraying, three times over four weeks. Begins as early as May 21. Residents of sterile fruit flies for up to 90 days after spraying stops. If additional flies are found, the process-inclunding aerial spraying-will be repeated. Ground applications of malathion may be done in specific areas where flies are found. Where larvae are found, trees will be stripped of fruit and the soil drenched with diazinon to kill pupating flies. Additional fly traps are being placed in an 81-square-mile area around the sites where flies were found, to track possible spread of the flies.


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