Bay Area Moms Fight Aerial Pesticide Plan California's plan to spray a fine pesticide mist over much of San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area has sparked protests from worried residents. The spraying is aimed at killing a moth threatening California's agricultural industry.
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Bay Area Moms Fight Aerial Pesticide Plan

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Bay Area Moms Fight Aerial Pesticide Plan

Bay Area Moms Fight Aerial Pesticide Plan

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People in northern California are upset about plans to launch a major aerial assault on a moth. It isn't the bug they're worried about. It's the spray the state plans to use to kill it.

NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.

Unidentified Man: No more spraying.

Unidentified Group: No more spraying.

RICHARD GONZALES: They carried signs reading Play, Not Spray and Keep Your Spray Off My Baby. They were young stay-at-home moms and other activists who converged this week at the state capital in Sacramento.

Unidentified Man: Governor - Governor Schwarzenegger - what do we tell Governor Schwarzenegger?

Unidentified Group: No more spraying.

GONZALES: They're trying to stop the state from launching a massive aerial spraying over San Francisco and neighboring counties. The target is a light brown apple moth, which is seen as a major threat to California's $32 billion ag industry. Two counties, Monterey and Santa Cruz, have already seen spraying.

Jillian Briscoe is a physician's assistant and a mother who says her two toddlers were exposed.

Ms. JILLIAN BRISCOE (Physician's Assistant): Within a couple of days they both came down with upper respiratory coughs that were completely unexpected. They hadn't been around ill children. And that lasted about three weeks.

GONZALES: Hundreds of people reported similar reactions: coughs, nausea, breathlessness. But a panel of state public health officials say they are unable to find a link between these symptoms and the spraying.

Nearly 30 years ago, the state blasted the San Francisco Bay Area with malathion to wipe out the infamous medfly. Filmmaker Robert Altman later lampooned the reaction in his film, "Short Cuts."

(Soundbite of movie, "Short Cuts")

Ms. MADELEINE STOWE (As Sherri Shepard): Gene, Gene, the helicopters are here. Shut the window.

Mr. TIM ROBBINS (As Gene Shepard): The dog stays outside. I told you a hundred times.

Ms. STOWE: Don't put Suzie outside. There's rain. It's going to give her cancer.

Mr. ROBBINS: It's not going to give her cancer. Don't you get environmental on me, Sherri.

Ms. STOWE: Have you looked at the news lately?

GONZALES: This time the state is trying to dampen the hysteria with a new PR offensive aimed at what they say is a misinformation campaign coming from the critics of the spraying program.

A.G. Kawamura, the California secretary of agriculture, says the spray is actually a pheromone delivered in microscopic capsules.

Secretary A.G. KAWAMURA (Department of Agriculture, State of California): This is not your classic insecticide. It's a moth perfume. It's a scent. It will confuse a male moth as it's looking for a female. And the idea is to keep it from reproducing. If it doesn't mate, it doesn't reproduce. If it doesn't reproduce, the population collapses.

GONZALES: Kawamura says if the spraying program is delayed and the light brown apple moth gets established, the alternatives to the pheromones spray will be far worse. And lawmakers from the ag-dominated central valley, such as Republican Assemblyman Tom Berryhill, say doing nothing is not an option.

Assemblyman TOM BERRYHILL (Republican, 25th District, California): This is a bad bug. If we let this thing get into the Central Valley, this is Armageddon for agriculture.

(Soundbite of crowd groaning)

GONZALES: The groans came from anti-spray activists who had packed a state assembly hearing even as others waited in long lines to get in. Outside, Jillian Briscoe shook her head at the notion of more spraying.

Ms. BRISCOE: I never expected to find myself on the steps of the capital fighting furiously for this, but I don't feel like it's a choice. It's a have to. You don't need to be a scientist. You don't need to be a family practitioner's assistant or a physician to identify that this is not good, not good for anyone.

GONZALES: While the debate rages on, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger says he's convinced the spray is safe, and the state has no intention of backing down.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, Sacramento.

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