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MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924

June, 2008


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Overkilling Those Little Apple Moths
By Karen Nakamura

No Organic Beehives Have Experienced Colony Collapse Disorder
On August 17, because the Light Brown Apple Moth (LBAM) infestation, the California Department of Agriculture is scheduled to begin aerial chemical spraying over the San Francisco Bay Area every 30-60 days over highly populated urban areas near water, for a period of 3-10 years, probably with the pesticide CheckMate LBAM-F.
The Marin Board of Supervisors and Bay Area city councils have voiced opposition while state lawmakers introduced bills to control aerial application over urban areas. Residents of Santa Cruz and Monterey have testified about the negative effects of last year's spraying while Mothers of Marin Against the Spray (MOMAS) and the California Alliance to Stop the Spray (CASS), rallied in Corte Madera, the audience filled with activists from as far away as the East Bay, Sonoma and Sacramento.

What's not being discussed is the overkill effect of spraying on the smallest and most vulnerable among us: insects, mollusks, snails, and microbes. As any schoolchild can tell you, these creatures are important members of the circle of life. Bees pollinate, ants aerate the soil, worms replenish it and "roly-polys" are just plain cute. Humanity is only beginning to understand the usefulness and beauty of our six, eight and no-legged friends. And as noted previously in the CP, their populations are falling to dangerous levels worldwide.

Because the moth threatens California's $32 billion agriculture industry, the USDA has placed 9 Bay Area counties on the quarantine list and Mexico added Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Napa counties. Before infestation becomes widespread in California's agricultural heartland, officials want the pest eradicated.

The problem is, according to UC Davis entomology professor James Carey, there is evidence that the moth has been in California for 30-50 years. The moth has also been in New Zealand for a century yet managed successfully through Integrated Pest Management Strategies, which include the use of natural predators, and limited chemical applications.

Frederick Fishel of the University of Florida looked into the effects of pesticide on non-target organisms. "Our environment is …favorable for …development and presence of beneficial organisms that positively affect our agricultural production and enhance our wildlife and plant communities. A side effect of some pesticides results in unfortunate consequences to our non-target organisms."

He points out that "Soil organisms are responsible for the decomposition of dead animal and plant material into organic matter, an important component of our soil fraction. Others are involved in the natural control of soil pests. Aside from their direct effects on pest organisms, soil microbes are a major agent in degrading pesticides. The breakdown of pesticides is beneficial for crop rotation and food residue concerns."

Nature's Control site states: "Many commonly used pesticides are harmful to beneficial insects long after they've been sprayed and long after pest insects are no longer affected by the pesticide. …Because beneficial insects don't get sprayed with pesticides nearly as much as pests do, they never get a chance to build up that same level of pesticide resistance, and when they do get sprayed, because they travel around looking for food much more than pests do, they get exposed to a double-whammy dose."

When the moth was found in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties last year, a spraying regiment was swiftly enacted despite the fact CheckMate LBAM-F had never been used over a populated area, only agricultural lands. After the sprayings in September and November, around 640 people were documented with respiratory, skin, digestive and other health issues. More than 248 birds were brought to a single animal rescue facility in the 3 days following the spray and over 600 birds were found sick or dying. Between the aerial spray and the bird die-off, there was "an explosion of red tide," reported to be the worst ever in Santa Cruz. The deadly red tide pathogens deplete oxygen in water and cause waterborne creatures to suffocate. The red tides formed after rains washed a yellow foamy viscous matter into Monterey Bay, a wildlife sanctuary.

Certain compounds in Checkmate LBAM-F; urea, sodium phosphate, and ammonium phosphate feed micro-plankton that give rise to a red tide. However, even the worst naturally formed red tides usually result in at most 30 dead or injured birds. Moreover, the material covering many birds was similar to the yellow oily material described by residents and contained round beads identical to that ascribed to the Checkmate microcapsule delivery system (Porter 2008), which lodges in the lungs.

Besides Santa Cruz's red zone infestation of 50-100 moths to a square mile, equally high concentrations of LBAM finds occur around Golden Gate Park and in Tiburon/Belvedere. The East Bay region from Richmond to Oakland has contiguous but low finds at 1-10 per square mile. The Marin corridor shows sporadic contamination at low levels and there are isolated patches in Sonoma County. Despite all that, there is no widespread, high-level infestation.

Interestingly, the company that makes CheckMate, Suterra LLC, is owned by a wealthy California agro-businessman, Stewart Resnick of Los Angeles. Resnick's nut and citrus holdings could be threatened. That's all fine but Resnick has also been a longtime political donor in California, giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Democratic Party and its candidates and $150,000 to Schwarzenegger's campaign. Is this a conflict of interest? Schwarzenegger spokesman, Aaron McLear, explained the use of CheckMate has nothing to do with Resnick. "The governor leads by what he believes is in the best interest of California..."

However, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA), faced with a potential disaster, acquired an "emergency exemption from registration" from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use CheckMate LBAM-F in aerial sprays over California cities. Because of that exemption, the spraying program isn't subject to state approval or regulations. The USDA also gave $74.5 million to the state's Department of Food and Agriculture to conduct the spraying. San Francisco, Daly City, Colma, Oakland, Piedmont, Emeryville, El Cerrito, El Sobrante, San Rafael, Tiburon, Belvedere and parts of Sonoma are subject to spraying.

We talked to Fred Crowder, deputy Marin County Agricultural Commissioner. His office oversees Marin County's Integrated Pest Management (IPM) program. IPM works with organic/non-poisonous substances, using poisonous pesticides only in the worse cases. Adopted in 1983, the IPM policy "…resulted in significant overall reduction in use and elimination of the most hazardous pesticides."

Crowder revealed the Marin IPM team is not in unison about the safety of CheckMate. "However, those worried about pheromones damaging their loved ones should relax. What pheromones do is interfere with the mating cycle of the targeted insect. In other words, Checkmate LBAM-F designates how the molecule signal is tweaked. This signal is unique and doesn't affect other insects. It's developed just for that particular moth and is harmless to anything else."

Perhaps the problem doesn't come from the pheromone but from the 8-10 additional ingredients that make up 82% of CheckMate's ingredients. Ammonium and sodium phosphates can irritate the skin, eyes and respiratory tract. So can methyl ammonium chloride, which degrades into chemicals even more toxic. Polyvinyl alcohol has caused tumors in lab animals, along with butylated hydroxytoluene, the two may be linked to asthma, gene mutations and cancer. The little-studied germicide, benzisothiozolin, is considered highly toxic to green algae and marine invertebrates. While there is little data on UV-absorbing hydroxy-octyloxybenzophenone, the family of chemicals it belongs to is linked to disruption of hormones, including estrogen.

Incredibly, after those two intense fall sprayings, insect finds taken between January and March, show Santa Cruz is still in the highest, red zone range of insect finds. If Check Mate LBAM-F works so well, why didn't the finds show at least some reduction in levels of finds after the spraying?


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