At last night’s city council meeting—after a brief presentation on California’s strategy to control the Light Brown Apple Moth—a couple of dozen Alameda citizens stepped up to challenge the plan to spray an as-yet-unformulated concoction on Bay Area cities and towns.
While the politics of the situation are intriguing—the ‘emergency’ which allows government agencies to sidestep normal health and safety requirements, the fact that the manufacturer of the synthetic pheromones is a Schwarzenegger campaign donor, and, too, that the state recently had to cancel a $500,000, no-bid PR contract to promote the spray—the basic facts remain the same:
(1) There is no scientific consensus regarding how much (or if!) the moth will spread.
(2) There is no scientific consensus on how long the moth has been in California and, therefore, how much of an ‘emergency’ it really is.
(3) And, most importantly, there is absolutely no scientific certainty that the synthetic pheromones and the small plastic ‘microcapsules’ in which they will be delivered are at all safe for human beings (not to mention fish, wildlife and water).
After the presentation and hours of citizen comments, council members questioned Kawamura, who became increasingly inarticulate as the evening wore on. Frank Matarrese forced him to admit that if this product were sprayed on fields, farm workers would not be allowed to be in them. Marie Gilmore questioned him on the speed with which the state’s strategy had been developed. And Mayor Beverly Johnson let him know that she was not at all convinced, after hearing details, that the state’s plan is sound. “I came in here with an open mind, but I have two children and I don’t want them to be sprayed,” said Johnson, who also chastised Kawamura for expecting people to accept the wide distribution of unknown agents without question. “If there’s only disclosure,” said Johnson, in response to Kawamura’s assertion that he was doing his best to explain the state’s methods, “the public doesn’t really feel like that’s a dialogue.”
Kawamura repeatedly resorted to scare tactics, implying invasive species will ruin the natural world as we know it if we don’t spray the moth right away. He had odd arguments, too, suggesting that since we are already exposed to pesticides and environmental toxins, we ought not worry about the moth spray. And he made at least one alarming revelation: that the formula for the spray hasn’t even been determined yet (and therefore, obviously, has not been tested for safety). Kawamura was, at core, quite unreassuring, insisting on the one hand that the state would stop spraying right away should there be health problems, yet dismissing out-of-hand the 600-odd health complaints made by citizens after the spraying in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties last fall. “It’s really kind of unimaginable,” said Mayor Johnson.
Have we not learned enough as humans to know that new agents may have unintended consequences both immediately (like Thalidomide) and way down the road (like asbestos).