The Sacramento Bee’s editorial supporting the state spraying Japanese beetle pesticides on Sacramento neighborhoods 10 times this summer ignores safe alternatives and the spraying’s health risks and rights violations.
The editorial cites the state environmental agency saying the pesticides are safe (“Spraying is pesky, but beetle is worse,” June 18). Scientific studies disagree.
The editorial mentions only one pesticide, carbaryl, which the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety says causes cancer, birth defects and miscarriages. A state official says it poses “no significant health risk” because it’s diluted, but current research proves dilution doesn’t equal safety. A pediatric toxicologist wrote the agency that carcinogens have no safe threshold and that children are especially susceptible because they’re small and rapidly growing.
The state also says the nerve toxin imidacloprid sprayed on Jesuit High School playing fields is safe once dry. However, the state Department of Pesticide Regulation says half the imidacloprid takes one to eight months to break down. Jesuit’s students will be exposed for months or even years.
Affected residents have no input, cannot use nontoxic alternatives, get little notice before spraying and some have their property forcibly entered. Residents have seen pesticide mist wafting overhead. Spray-zone storm drains flow to the American River, but the state insists there’s no need to monitor irrigation runoff.
The California Department of Food and Agriculture has sprayed these neighborhoods since 1983, but it hasn’t worked. The beetle continually reappears. The department claims “eradication” then “reintroduction” through an airport. With hundreds of airports and hospitable climates throughout California, why only here?
Safe, effective and federally endorsed treatments include predators and natural products. Experts recommend traps, soil solarization and natural neem oil. The agriculture department’s review of alternative treatments is not fair or science-based, evaluating safe treatments singly while evaluating pesticides in combination.
By dismissing spraying as “pesky” and an “inconvenience,” and saying “the risk to ag is greater,” the editorial inappropriately minimizes a serious health hazard.
If the agriculture department truly prefers not to spray, it should partner with affected communities to demonstrate that safe treatments work. The agency is counting on residents to be complacent and cooperative. Change begins when, instead, we hold the department accountable for protecting human health.
Ellen Sward lives in the Carmichael spray zone. Ron Whitehurst is a specialist in biological pest control. Myrto Ashe is a family medicine physician in San Rafael.