Fruit Fly Firestorm

Protesters and COLAB Square Off Over Use of Pesticide

by Martha Sadler

A battle over use of the pesticide
Naled
to fight the Oriental fruit fly turned ugly toward the
end of a public hearing on Tuesday before the County Board of
Supervisors. Andy Caldwell, perennial spokesman for the powerful
Coalition of Labor, Agriculture, and Business, had just spoken in
favor of continued Naled use when petitioners against use of the
pesticide gel started chanting, “Shame! Shame!” The ordinarily
formal Caldwell responded to this surprise attack with kissing
noises, provoking one of the anti-Naled activists — who had just
recounted her grown daughter’s experience of nausea and shaking, an
illness she attributed to the Naled applications — to blurt out, “I
hope that one of your children gets poisoned.” All of this caused
2nd District Supervisor Susan Rose, who was participating in the
Santa Maria meeting via teleconference, to stop the proceedings
momentarily while Caldwell informed her of what “one of your
constituents said to me.”

The campaign against the use of Naled has been heating up since
late July, when three specimens of the bright yellow, highly
destructive fruit fly — Bactrocera dorsalis — were found in a
monitoring trap in Hope Ranch. The state’s Department of Food and
Agriculture embarked on an eradication effort consisting of the
squirting of a gel — infused with Naled and a male-attracting
pheromone — on trees within a four-mile radius of the monitoring
trap. No fruit flies have been seen since, but according to
protesters, some three dozen people believe they have become sick
from the pesticide while others have taken hotel rooms to escape
what they regard as its toxic menace. Earlier Tuesday, a dozen or
more neighbors and their supporters blocked Puente Drive to try to
prevent county crews from applying the gel to trees and telephone
poles. Athena Foley, owner of a horse ranch on Puente, was cited
for obstructing traffic.

Organized as the Pesticide Awareness and Alternatives Coalition
(PAAC), protesters complained that CDFA did not follow its own
professed protocol, which is to apply the gel in coin-sized dollops
10 feet off the ground. The Puente Drive protesters displayed a
photograph of what they claimed was a basketball-sized “monster
blob” of the gel, two feet off the ground on a tree near the corner
of Via Tranquila and Via Presada, along a bridle trail next to
Vieja Valley School. Several of the applications appeared to be
about four inches in diameter, and eight feet off the ground. One
of Caldwell’s points, however, was that much of the bulk is not the
pesticide itself, which he averred was applied at the rate of a
mere half-cup per square mile, but the attractant plus inert
binding ingredients.

Naled is a Class 1 organophosphate pesticide not recommended for
residential use. When Naled is applied agriculturally, protesters
pointed out, workers are not allowed to return to the field for 48
hours. It is a neurotoxin, a mutagen, and a carcinogen. Puente
Drive neighbors expressed concern about the safety of their water
supplies once the gel washes off the trees, in particular the
vulnerability of a Goleta Water District well on Puente Drive.
Naled has successfully prevented fruit fly infestations in
California since 1974 without any confirmed reports of illness or
death attributed to it. However, both the PAAC activists and Naled
proponents agree that it is difficult to distinguish symptoms of
acute pesticide poisoning from flu-like symptoms common to other
ailments.

Caldwell painted a grim picture of the consequences should Santa
Barbara fail to eradicate the fruit fly, including the aerial
spraying of neighborhoods and the destruction of organic farms,
which would be forced to use pesticides in order to legally market
their produce. This may be an exaggerated scenario, but nobody
doubts the fact that Bactrocera dorsalis is a serious threat to
agriculture. The PAAC has been intensively researching other
methods for controlling it, including the use of predatory wasps, a
chemical called spinosad, and a product called Sure-Die. Deputy
agricultural commissioner Guy Tingos said his department fully
supports alternatives, and Supervisor Rose said she is trying to
arrange a town hall meeting in early October with state officials
to discuss notification, application protocols, and alternatives.
Barring the discovery of more Oriental fruit flies, a final Naled
application is scheduled for September 26.

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