Get SF Weekly Newsletters

Friday, April 25, 2008

Last Night: Charge of the Light Brown Apple Moth at Town School for Boys

Posted By on Fri, Apr 25, 2008 at 6:31 AM


San Franciscans meet to Stop the Spraying

by Benjamin Wachs

Town School for Boys

2750 Jackson Street, San Francisco

6:00 p.m. Thursday April 24, 2008

Public meeting on the proposed aerial spraying of the Light Brown Apple Moth

Light Brown Apple Moth people like to talk. A lot. They also like to listen to each other talk about the Light Brown Apple Moth. That’s why they’re selling DVDs of previous meetings.

I repeat: the anti-Light Brown Apple Moth spraying forces have DVDs of previous Light Brown Apple Moth meetings for sale in the lobby.

“Stop Them Before They Spray Again: reports from the LBAM Frontlines” goes for $15.

But “Stop the Spray! A town meeting on forced aerial spraying, Corta Madera, CA, March 3, 2008” and “California State Senate Environmental Quality Committee Informational Hearing on Forced Urban Aerial LBAM Spraying, March 13, 2008, San Rafeal, CA, Sen. Joe Simitian, Chair” are sold together as a set for $20.

Think of them as cult classics.

A half-hour before the meeting, a mostly older neighborhood crowd is milling around in the lobby of the Town School for Boys, rifling through the DVDs and trading LBAM rumors.

Did you know that when they sprayed the first time, 640 people checked into the hospital, mostly complaining of respiratory ailments?

A thousand birds washed ashore, dead.

Children were sick for months.

Livestock died across the county.

A plague of locusts swept through the land.

The rivers turned to blood.

Darkness descended for 3 days and nights.

The Bay parted, and a group of illegal immigrants escaped.

Which is to say, a lot of rumors are flying around the lobby, and maybe this hearing was held a little too close to Passover.

As the room fills up, a strange thing happens: a great deal of the talk seems to meld lefty causes together until they’re indistinguishable. The spraying is like the War in Iraq; they’re selling it to us (they?) the way they sold us No Child Left Behind. The spraying is like an attack on the poor, like apartheid, a violation of civil liberties, like the assault on affirmative action.

It makes me wonder: has liberalism reached the point where it really has only one issue? A kind of ur-issue to which everything either relates 100% or isn’t our problem? I’m just wondering. The night’s still young.

The mood here is upbeat with the news that the Guvernator signed a law postponing the spraying until studies on it can be completed. But no one thinks this is over. “The governor threw us a bone,” someone says.

The meeting starts 20 minutes late. It’s standing room only by this point.

Michela Alioto-Pier is a guest of honor, and she says this is an issue that transcends party and divisions. City hall, she says, is outraged. “We’ve already passed two bills on this,” she notes. Of course, those bills contradict each other, but, never mind. She doesn’t.

“I would be shocked if San Francisco does not follow Santa Cruz’s lead and take a very aggressive stand against this.”

How strong? How about this strong: “Honestly,” she says, “if the state comes back and tells us in August that they’ve studied it and it’s perfectly safe, we’re still not going to want it and we’re still not going to believe them.”

That’s a very truthful, and damning, thing to say. What’s terrifying is that she could be right: based on the evidence presented tonight, some of it by people who sound completely sane, “no under any circumstances” might be the way to go.

The Light Brown Apple Moth issue may prove that just because you’re hysterical doesn’t mean the sky isn’t falling.

The meeting will follow a 6-point agenda:

1) Description of the Light Brown Apple Moth situation

2) Science of the moth

3) Alternatives to spraying

4) Health and safety

5) Working with our local governments and communities

6) Questions.

It all sounds so simple when you hit the bullet points. But, strangely, item 3 (alternatives to spraying) never gets discussed, so it’s really a 5 point agenda with a back-up plan. Let’s dig in:

1. We’re looking at a monthly spraying program, delivered from low flying air planes, for 3 nights or so a month, for 3- 5 years or until the moth is eradicated. The entire city will be covered. The state warns people to stay inside when this happens, and to bring children’s toys inside or at least hose them off, for God sake, once it’s finished. Getting out of town is not really an option, since the spray consists of plastic micro-capsules that time-release the spray over weeks. It’s not labeled for use in populated areas. Hah.

2. The science of the moth is handled by Jeff Rosendale, Grower, Horticultural Consultant & co-author of Integrated Pest Management Practices for LBAM in New Zealand; and James Carey, UC Davis entomologist.

Jeff begins. LBAMs are “leaf rollers,” which feed when they’re larvae and caterpillars on leaves, eventually rolling the leaves into a little home and pupating, turning into a moth – a process that repeats itself 2 – 3 times a year.

I don’t watch the discovery channel for exactly this reason.

Leaf rollers “have always been considered a minor pest in agriculture. The reason why they’re so important here and now is that they’re quarantined. Because of that fact, they’re given a pit bull status when in fact they’re a chihuahua. They’re just a pest on paper.”

Bottom line: Jeff says he’s never seen any evidence explaining why this is such a dangerous exotic species. You know, he informs us gravely, tomatoes and carrots are exotic species! Take that!

The crowd thinks this makes sense.

“We wish the government was spending more money studying this species” and finding out what kind of relationship it could have with the environment, he says. Well, that part does make sense.

Jeff also has warnings: do not confuse the LBAM with the California Oak Moth or the Gypsy Moths, which you’ve heard so much about. That would be crazy.

You’ve been warned.

James Carey speaks now. He’s studied invasion biology. That sounds scary. He’s also spent a number of years on the California Department of Food and Agriculture panel – the very panel which has now determined that spraying is a good idea. “It’s very difficult, when you’re on a panel, to speak out,” he says.

He has 10 points he’d like to present.

1. Everything flows from the USDA. They placed the LBAM on a “quarantine” list for reasons that were political, not scientific, and at that point science stops: science is used to support the decision, not to evaluate it.

2. The LBAM population is enormous. They’re everywhere. Get used to it. “LBAM goes well beyond those 12 counties. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re in every county in the state.”

3. LBAM is a long term resident: they’ve been here for ages. The only reason the CDFA is saying it’s a new pest that’s only been here for a year is because they need it to be an emergency. It took the gypsy moth 30 – 40 years to spread to the extent that the LBAM is alleged to already exist at after just 1 year.

4. A pheromone (like the one used in the California spraying) has never been used in any other eradication program because entomologists know it’s ineffective. There’s no exceptions. “This program is an experiment.”

5. Eradication programs are almost universally failures anyway. The only way it works is if you’re dealing with a very small area … maybe the size of the Berkeley campus …. And you spray the hell out of it. The hell out of it.

6. LBAM’s caused zero damage in California. “I’ve seen the economic impact reports. They’re not credible.”

7. There are alternative strategies to eradication.

8. No entomologists he’s spoken with believe this pest can be eradicated. “I’d bet there’s no one on the panel of CDFA who believes it either, but they’ve got their marching orders and they’ve got to support it.”

9. Lots of people, plant nursery owners, don’t support this either.

10. Pheromones and pesticides linger in the human body. The gypsy moth pheromone has been known to linger 17 years in the human body. Get sprayed, and you could be attracting moths for decades.

Someone asks: if all these 10 facts are common knowledge, why is this happening at all? Answer: institutional momentum. Once the USDA made the classification, millions of dollars got spent and lots of people did stuff; if they reclassify the LBAM then they have to explain why all that happened and why people were sprayed. “The train’s left the station.”

3. Skin lesions, vomiting, diarrhea, and other nasties were the most common complaints people had after the first spraying in Monterey, although no one’s sure what to expect I the future because it’s never really been studied in humans.

Kids are at greater risk because of kids’ “unique behavior.” They play on swings, they crawl on the ground, they eat dirt. Also, their breathing zones are closer to the ground.

Much of this information is presented by Judi Shils, Founder of Search for the Cause, who also goes out of her way to tell us how inspired she was by “An Inconvenient Truth.” Damnnit, don’t lefties have any other movies? What about a “Star Wars” reference, or “House of Sand and Fog”? Because, and I hate to tell you this, but aerial spraying of pesticides is NOT the same kind of environmental crisis as Global Warming. Both the environment, yes, but kinda different issues.

Unless …. San Francisco liberals really do have only one ur-issue, and think everything they care about relates to it. I’m really starting to like this theory.

Hey – where’d Alioto Pier go? Did she sneak out? Do you, as our lawmaker, need FEWER facts than the public does? Couldn’t you even last an hour? 40 minutes, since it started late?

4. As part of the discussion on working with other governments and groups, Mike Lynberg, “the hero of Monterey” (as he’s introduced) explains how, after the first spraying there, he started cataloguing resident health complaints. He’s gotten big applause every time his name was mentioned, and he’s getting big applause now.

The most serious injury to develop in Monterey was a 12 year old boy who developed respiratory symptoms a day after they sprayed, and needed to be taken to the emergency room the next day. A week later, his heart stopped and was barely resuscitated.

Mike put hundreds of complaints into a book he complied (which I suspect is on sale in the lobby), “and they’re frightening and they’re tragic.” But the CDFA ignored them, throwing 90% of the complaints out because the didn’t include the time and date of the outset. Not a single victim or doctor was interviewed.

“The people in the government (who perpetrated this) owe the people of California an apology,” he says. Huge applause!

Then, as he explains why he went out of his way to help his fellow man, he puts his foot in it.

“I’m a Christian,” he says, suddenly making the crowd very uncomfortable,” and we’re called to help our neighbors, to lift up the battered and bruised … there’s the parable of the good Samaritan” …

He goes on like this, and nobody claps for him again for a very long while. You can feel a rustle of discomfort swirling through the room. Christian? How dare he? Those are the people whose persecution we fight against! ESPECIALLY when they’re on our side!

Next former Fairfax Mayor Frank Egger talks about how the government will have to listen to the people. Power to the people!

“There seems to be a mindset,” he says. “Either we’re looking for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or we’re looking for the Light Brown Apple Moth!”

Yep – there’s the ur-issue. I’ve definitely discovered something important here tonight.

The final statement is given by Paul Schramski, State Director of Pesticide Watch, who makes tonight’s Most Accidentally Hilarious statement:

“The people of San Francisco have a history of doing some really revolutionary things around pesticides.”

Paul also points out, in a more reasonable sounding redux of Alioto-Pier, that he won’t be satisfied with “testing” – it needs to be testing of long term impacts, and testing on how more vulnerable populations like the children and the elderly are affected.

The floor is opened up to questions. You can leave now if you want. Several people did. There’s a fairly long line for the microphone, and a lot of the people in it are kids.

In case you want more LBAM, here are some highlights:

Question 1: do you know what the air pollution ratings would be the nights spraying occurs. Also , can the particles from the spray directly enter the bloodstream?

Mike says that it depends who you ask. California says the particiles are 30 microns large and can’t reach your deep lunch tissue. But a study by UC Davis said they’re much smaller, smaller than 10 microns, and can reach your deep lung tissue. I didn’t even know we had deep lung tissue. Shit.

Question 4: Dr. Richard Cutty announces his existence among us lesser mortals in the audience. After explaining his credentials, he announces, “If this were at the Nuremberg trials, the people responsible would be hung. Seriously. I’m not trying to be bitter or overdramatic.”

Once again: the liberal ur-issue. Everything we object to is exactly like everything else we object to.

Dr. Cutty says he’s fighting for us against a media blackout (OH SHIT, NO ONE TOLD ME) and “official bureaucratic censorship.”

He doesn’t have a question, he just wanted to tell us that.

Question 6: Is it true that some peninsula towns, like Hillsborough, Atherton, and Menlo Park been able to delay spraying in their communities? Can you confirm or deny this? Do they have a model we don’t?

Answer: Monterey and Santa Cruz were sprayed, but Pebble Beach was not. Menlo Park is also not being sprayed. Funny how that works, huh. Apparently the LBAM can’t afford to live in some zip codes.

Question 8: I’m a teacher at a pre-school in San Francisco with an organic garden. I’m scared for what could happen to our kids when they walk through to pick strawberries. And what about California’s organic farmers? How can they be organic if there’s aerial spraying?

Answer: the national organics program is now run by the USDA (GASPS from the crowd!) so no one will lose their certification. Hmmmmm … apparently an organic by any other name would smell as toxic.

Question 9: “I am concerned about leaf blowers because they are very efficient at spreading endocrine mimickers.”

Answer: Yeah … about that … find someone else to talk to.

Question 10: the third little kid of the night. “Is there any potential damage to the insect populations due to the spraying?”

Yeah … could the spraying of pesticide in any way damage the insect populations? I hate kids.

Answer: Yes, it could hurt other insects too. But there’s no such thing as an invasive species treatment that is really “safe” for the environment – the wasp they want to introduce into the environment to kill the LBAM also eats butterfly eggs.

Question 11: another little kid. “I’m curious about the biomagnifications factor.”

I hate kids.

Answer: “there are some REALLY great teachers in San Francisco. We don’t know how all the ingredients will interact – so biomagnification is an issue. But we don’t know exactly how.”

They’re saying these pheromones are safe, Nan points out, because they’re new. DDT was once new. We should be cautious.

Question 12: ANOTHER DAMN KID. What’s the greatest danger of the spraying?

Answer: Death. But, mostly respiratory ailments.

Question 13: Who are the manufacturers of Checkmate (the spraying treatment)? Do we, perhaps, need to reformulate the Military-Industrial-Pesticide Complex?

Yes, she really says “Military-Industrial-Pesticide Complex.” This is SUCH an Ur-issue.

Answer: “Let me just say about the Military-Industrial-Pesticide Complex …” oh Jesus, are we going to be using this now?

According to Nan, it’s a company named Sunterra in Oregon. Its parent corporation owns Fiji water, and is in turn owned by the largest citrus owner in California. He’s given $144,000 to the governor’s campaign, and money to all the members of the Assembly’s agricultural committee.

Question 14: “I’m a kid and I don’t want to die.” Will our groundwater be affected?

Answer: There is no information on that. Could be.

Question 15: In previous sprayings were there effects on domestic animal or zoo animal populations?

Answer: Yes, there were complaints. A couple cats died, a healthy dog had an engorged aorta. And a group of rabbits from a home for the elderly were reported dead a day after the spraying.

Also, a report by the Department of Fish and Game noted that 650 birds washed up on shore with a yellow film from the spraying on them … but the report said the deaths had nothing to do with the pesticide. Because that kind of thing just happens.

Question 19: Isn’t it so interesting that the richer zip codes aren’t going to be sprayed? “I think this opens up a whole new kettle of worms” (yes, she said kettle of worms). Aren’t you shocked by that? (she asks the panel) You don’t seem shocked enough by it.

Answer: We’re shocked by it.

She stays on to say “I don’t want to be paranoid, but if they’re spraying well known liberal bastions and avoiding the wealthier Republican communities, I can’t help but wonder …”

“Aparthied! Aparthied! Apartheid!” Someone in the back shouts.


Final question, because they’re determined to end on time: it amounts to “what can be done?” Answer: the governor needs to act. Nothing else can happen in time. Carol Migdin’s bill to stop the spraying is only a resolution, with no force of law, while Leno’s bill is probably pre-empted by the governor’s action today. D’oh.

Meeting adjourned.

For those of you who want even more LBAM, I’m sure the meeting will be out on DVD soon.

Keep fighting, San Francisco.

  • Pin It

About The Author

Benjamin Wachs


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"