Several dozen Albany residents stayed up until midnight at the City Council meeting Tuesday, waiting for the Council’s decision on whether to oppose a state pesticide spray program. Photo by Linjun Fan.
Albany City Council unanimously passed a resolution to oppose a state pesticide spray program Tuesday, saying that it could cause “unpredictable” and “often serious” health and environmental problems.
The program, launched by California Department of Food and Agriculture to eliminate a non-native moth, has aroused widespread public concern since last fall.
Albany is the first city in the San Francisco Bay Area to pass a resolution opposing the aerial spray, which is scheduled to be conducted in the Bay Area in August.
“Our hope in Albany is that this resolution will be a model for other bay area governments to cast, so that local governments will stand united opposing this, ” said Nan Wishner, an Albany resident who spent numerous hours collecting information on the issue and drafting the resolution.
The state department has been trying to convince the public that the chemical used in the spray is not toxic to either human or animals.
“It doesn’t even hurt the moths, ” said the food and agriculture department on a public notice on its web site.
The chemical, named CheckMate LBAM-F., is a replica of the pheromone a female light brown apple moth releases to attract a mate. Spraying of the chemical won’t kill the moths but reduce their population by disrupting their mating, according to the state department.
Both the federal Environment Protection Agency and the state Department of Pesticide Regulation have approved the use of the chemical.
“EPA believes use of these pheromone products, including aerial application over residential areas, presents negligible risks to human health and the environment, ” said the agency in a statement on its web site.
But their position is challenged by a number of environmental groups and local governments, who said that the state hadn’t conducted enough independent studies to prove their statements.
Several hundred health complaints have been filed following the aerial spray of pesticide in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties in recent months, and several local governments of the two counties have filed lawsuits against the state department on the issue.
“The state has relied almost entirely on its own scientists to address public concerns about the LBAM(Light Brown Apple Moth) spray program, and has not employed independent outside experts to evaluate and support the program or address issues in a direct and impartial manner, ” Albany’s resolution says.
The resolution also says that there are better ways to deal with the moths, and request the state to use “least-toxic” and “organic or natural” methods for pest control.
But the state department said that ground-based methods are not “logistically feasible” in some situations, and only aerial spray would be effective in heavily-infested areas.
The light brown apple moth, a native of Australia, was first found in California in early 2007. It hasn’t caused significant damage to any plants in the state, but would cause considerable harm to the state’s agriculture and becomes “a permanent unwanted resident in California and the rest of the United States” if not eradicated while the infestation is still small, according to the state department.
The department also says that the pesticide program needs to last for four to five years before it can effectively control the moths, and costs a total of $97 million in 2008.
Director of the program John Connell told the audience at the Albany City Council meeting that his office is looking for new formula of pheromone products, which are being experimented in New Zealand, that would be sprayed in the Bay Area in a few months to see whether it’s more effective than the current ones.
But this statement caused more skepticism among the audience.
“It’s experimenting new products and expects to have answers about those products within months. That’s unrealistic, ” said Albany Mayor Robert Lieber.
Albany City Councilmembers voted unanimously to oppose the program at around 11:45 pm Tuesday. Several dozen people in the audience broke into loud applause at the voting result.
“This is not just about making a statement. This is about our children, our families, and our dogs and cats, ” said Lieber. “We want to give people the choice on whether they want to be sprayed or not. “
Click here to read the fulltext of the resolution.