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Monterey County Weekly
Sep 27, 2007 - 01:00 AM

by Kera Abraham

Sex Smells: Illness, money and a lawsuit complicate the moth scent-spraying controversy.

The pheromone products that critics are calling "weapons of moth destruction" appear to be drumming up more local resistance than the Iraq War.

The feds and state Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) aim to eradicate the invasive light brown apple moth by aerially spraying the Monterey Peninsula with pheromone products Checkmate OLR-F and Checkmate LBAM-F, which confuse the male moths and disrupt mating. The first spray occurred Sept. 9-13 and the next is scheduled to begin around Oct. 9 despite opposition from concerned locals.

The issue has also become an environmentalist-versus-environmentalist debate. California Certified Organic Farmers supports the spraying, and the Natural Resource Defense Council's senior scientist is unconcerned about it. While Californians for Pesticide Reform prefers the use of pheromones to conventional pesticides, the group has reservations about spraying it from planes.

A growing number of local groups agree. Helping Our Peninsula's Environment (HOPE) and the Fort Ord Environmental Justice Network initially spearheaded the opposition, but in the past few weeks three new groups have joined the resistance.

The cities of Pacific Grove and Monterey have threatened to sue the state over the spraying, but HOPE is the first plaintiff to follow through. The group filed a lawsuit against the CDFA and Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura on Sept. 24.

The lawsuit alleges the pheromone spraying injures the Peninsula's residents.

The lawsuit alleges that the pheromone spraying injures the Peninsula's residents and the National Marine Sanctuary's invertebrates. It also questions the validity of the EPA's "emergency" exemptions, which permit the spraying over a residential area without an environmental impact report and public review required under the California Enviromental Quality Act.

HOPE may request an injunction to delay spraying while the lawsuit moves forward, HOPE's David Dilworth says.

Meanwhile, activists following the money have discovered that the owner of the pheromone manufacturing company is a major contributor to Gov. Schwarzenegger. State records show that Stewart and Lynda Resnick, co-chairs of Los Angeles-based Roll International, contributed $144,600 to Schwarzenegger's 2006 gubernatorial campaign. Roll International's many subsidiaries include Fiji Water, Paramount Agribusiness and Suterra Inc., the company that manufactures the Checkmate products being sprayed on the Peninsula.

An alternate form of pheromone is available. Pacific Biocontrol Corporation develops and distributes -- and mammoth chemical company Shin-Etsu manufactures -- twist ties infused with the moth scent, which can be placed around infested areas. The state has tried the twist ties in seven cities, including San Jose.

But CDFA officials have said that aerial spraying is cheaper and more effective than ground application, despite citizen requests to do the latter. About 40 residents at the Aug. 21 Monterey City Council meeting indicated that they would volunteer to place twist ties.

The owners of Pacific Biocontrol and Shin-Etsu did not contribute to Schwarzenegger's 2006 campaign.

Within an hour of going outside on the afternoon of Sept. 13, PG resident Mike Lynberg began to feel congested. His wife and two kids also got sick. He suspects that the symptoms were related to the pheromones sprayed over his neighborhood the night before.

Lynberg started Concerned Citizens Against Aerial Spraying and began collecting illness complaints from other residents. As of Sept. 24 he's received 81 reports of sore throats, bronchial congestion, stuffy noses, headaches, fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain and skin rashes. He sent a summary to local mayors and Assemblyman John Laird.

The state Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) instructs people who feel sick to first see a physician. Doctors who suspect a link between the symptoms and pesticide exposure should fill out a state form and submit it to the county agriculture commissioners' office, which investigates complaints and then shares them with the DPR.

The county has received 11 complaints so far and plans to investigate them all, says Assistant Agriculture Commissioner Robert Roach. But the going is slow. According to the state's Pesticide Illness Surveillance Program fact sheet, "DPR has longstanding concerns about delays in receiving illness reports."

The County Health Department's Dr. Hugh Stallworth, who says he has no formal role in the reporting process, has also been hearing from residents who think they're sick from the spray. "It's certainly a possibility that it's more related to people's concern, anger and anxiety than an actual physiologic problem," he says.

While there's little he can do at a local level, Stallworth is passing illness reports on to the state Department of Public Health. "They are getting public pressure to do something," he says.

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