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Judge orders moth spraying halted

by Herald
Question of whether ingredient dangerous
Herald Staff Writers
Monterey County Herald

A judge ordered a last-minute halt to aerial pheromone spraying, citing questions about a top-secret ingredient allegedly used in the pesticide formula that was applied over the Peninsula in September.

Shortly after 5 p.m. Wednesday, Judge Robert O'Farrell issued a temporary restraining order that will stop the area's second round of spraying until at least Oct. 18, when a hearing will be held to consider additional evidence in a lawsuit filed by Peninsula activists.

O'Farrell named the ingredient in question — polymethylene polyphenyl isocyanate, or PPI, which is listed as a "hazardous agent" by the National Institutes of Health on the agencies' Web site. The site noted reports of occupational asthma among spray painters exposed to it.

But a number of chemists say PPI is unlikely to harm humans when mixed with other ingredients in the pesticide, and when it is applied over such a large area in a short period of time.

On Wednesday, pilots were prepared to start spraying in less than three hours when the restraining order came in, grounding the planes at Salinas airport, said Jay Van Rein, of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

"I think the people of the Monterey Peninsula can breathe easier," said Alexander Henson, attorney for Helping Our Peninsula's Environment, which filed the suit.

Spraying is taking place under the direction of the state Department of Food and Agriculture to eradicate an infestation of light brown apple moths. State officials say that, if not controlled, the moth could cause $650 million in damage to plants and crops.

In his order, O'Farrell wrote that if the plaintiffs merely requested a halt to spraying the pheromone itself, he would have denied the request.

But he granted the order, O'Farrell said, because plaintiffs expressed concerns about another alleged ingredient — PPI.

There are two formulas intended for application in the area, one called Checkmate OLR-F, which was used in last month's application over the Monterey Peninsula, and Checkmate LBAM-F, which officials planned to use this week. Key ingredients of the Checkmate products have been guarded as trade secrets by Suterra, the manufacturer of the pheromone spray.

Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura said in September that the difference between the two formulas was the pheromone — a synthetic version of a substance secreted by the female moth that in the new version would be more specific to the light brown apple moth.

Henson said HOPE learned the list of ingredients in the first version, Checkmate OLR-F, including those held as trade secrets, after they were inadvertently released by the Environmental Protection Agency to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

The list was published in the Sentinel on Sept. 28 and was posted on the newspaper's Web site.

The list has since been removed and replaced with a note that states the ingredients are protected from public disclosure under the California Uniform Trade Secrets Act.

Don Miller, managing editor of the Sentinel, said the list was removed from the Web site after lawyers for Suterra informed the paper the ingredients were protected under state and federal trade secret laws.

In its suit, HOPE alleged that PPI could have "potentially harmful propensities for a segment of the population," according to O'Farrell's order.

"Neither side has had an adequate opportunity to submit reliable scientific evidence on the issue," O'Farrell wrote, "and consequently the court is not in a position to rule in a vacuum of information."

The next step for his clients, Henson said, will be to get the state to acknowledge whether PPI is actually in the spray's formula.

But in his order, O'Farrell seemed to confirm that PPI is an ingredient in the Checkmate version to be sprayed this week when he wrote "... It has been determined that the Checkmate product to be applied contains another ingredient, polymethylene polyphenyl isocyanate."

After that, Henson said, "the burden is on the state" to prove PPI is safe.

CDFA spokeswoman Nancy Lungren said, "We look forward to a hearing on the matter and pledge to work to provide the judge with all the information he requires to issue a decision."

Julie Reynolds can be reached at 648-1187 or jreynolds [at]

Daniel Lopez can be reached at 646-4494 or dlopez [at]

For information about the Department of Food and Agriculture's moth spraying plans go to

Go to our Web site for information linked to this story about the Department of Food and Agriculture's moth spraying plans.
by Herald
Spraying timeline uncertain
After court ordered-halt, state plans review of data
Herald Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 10/12/2007 08:39:06 AM PDT

With plans to spray against the light brown apple moth halted by a court order, state officials said Thursday it's difficult to know what effects the stoppage will have on their eradication project.

Airplanes were scheduled to conduct a second round of aerial spraying over the Monterey Peninsula this week, but Judge Robert O'Farrell issued a temporary restraining order Wednesday, grounding the planes. The order will remain in effect for at least a week. A hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 18.

O'Farrell's order was a setback for the state Department of Food and Agriculture, which hoped to make a second application 30 days after a spraying last month.

"The moths are mating and we are losing an opportunity to apply the pheromones," said department spokesman Steve Lyle.

State officials say the infestation of moths, discovered in 11 counties so far, is an emergency. If not controlled they say the insect could potentially cause $640 million in damage to the state's economy and environment, because it feeds on more than 250 plants and crops.

The pheromone spray is designed to mimic the scent of females, preventing males from finding a mate and ultimately leading to the demise of the moth population, say state officials.

Opponents of the plan question both the safety of the pheromone spray and the degree to which the infestation constitutes an emergency.

In his order, O'Farrell cited questions raised by Helping Our Peninsula's Environment, the environmental group that argued for the temporary restraining order, about the possible presence and safety of polymethylene polyphenyl isocyanate, or PPI, in the Checkmate OLR-F and Checkmate LBAM-F pheromone sprays being used in the eradication project.

HOPE learned of the possible ingredients, considered trade secrets by the manufacturer Suterra of Bend, Ore., when they were inadvertently released to the Santa Cruz Sentinel by the Environmental Protection Agency last month.

"It has been determined that the Checkmate version to be applied contains another ingredient, polymethylene polyphenyl isocyanate," O'Farrell wrote in his order.

Alexander Henson, attorney for HOPE, said the burden of proof that PPI is safe rests with the state.

Lyle said the Department of Food and Agriculture is focusing on providing the needed information to help the judge make his decision.

Bob Roach, the county's assistant agricultural commissioner, said his office has sent 129 health-related complaints that arose from the spraying to the state Department of Pesticide Regulation for further review.

Department spokesman Glenn Brank said his department has received about 200 complaints related to a variety of topics on the light brown apple moth issue.

As for those submitted by the agricultural commissioner, Brank said it will take some time to sort through the reports because duplicates have been filed and others may provide too little information.

"Some people have consulted physicians, but because others have not we don't have a lot to go on," said Brank. "Without the medical evaluation, it's very difficult for us to analyze what's going on."

Roach said only one of the reports they submitted included a doctor's report.

In addition to reviewing the reports, the Department of Pesticide Regulation said Wednesday that it will re-evaluate the safety of the chemical pheromones used to combat the light brown apple moth.

"You can't make people feel safe. You can give them information, you can give them scientific data, you can tout our medical experts but you can't make them feel safe," said Brank.

He said the re-evaluation, which will examine the toxicity of the Checkmate products and information relevant to the application, is being done in light of the public's concerns.

"In part, people's concerns are based on a lack of confidence in government at all levels. That's a hard thing to accept and acknowledge but we have to because it's the first step to making the situation better," said Brank. "That's the best we can do right now given the circumstances."

It's not known how soon the Department of Pesticide Regulation could complete its evaluation.

It is also unclear when the Department of Food and Agriculture would resume spraying along the Peninsula if they prevail.

"We will wait for the court's order to decide what will happen next," said Lyle.

To find out about the Department of Food and Agriculture's moth-spraying plan, go to
by Sentinel
October 12, 2007

As We See It: Public has right to know spray ingredients

The public has a right to know what is in the pesticide spray that seeks to eradicate the light brown apple moth.

We say that while also supporting the eradication program, which, on the basis of the evidence presented by state Department of Agriculture, is both necessary and somewhat urgent. Not doing anything could wreak economic havoc with the local and state agriculture industry and affect consumers as well.

The decision Wednesday by a Monterey County Superior Court judge to temporarily halt spraying the pesticide in that county doesn't change our opinion. Judge Robert O'Farrell said he was granting the request by a group opposed to the spraying because he didn't have enough "reliable scientific evidence" to make an informed decision whether polymethylene polyphenyl isocyanate [PPI], an inert ingredient in the pheromone spray, is harmful to people's health. O'Farrell also said that he would not have halted the spraying based only on the application of pheromones.

The name of that ingredient has been a subject of dispute that has involved the Sentinel.

Last month, an official with the federal Environmental Protection Agency told a Sentinel reporter the ingredients in the spray, which is made by an Oregon company, Suterra LLC.

We published that information.

Subsequently, this newspaper was informed that publishing the names of the ingredients in the spray violated both federal and state trade secret laws.

Acting on the informed opinions of lawyers and experts on the trade secrets laws, we then removed the names of the ingredients from our Web site, but continued to investigate the scientific evidence on the safety of the inert ingredient.

However, since the judge has published the name of the ingredient in his opinion, we again are naming it.

In a story published in Thursday's Sentinel, reporter Tom Ragan quoted two chemists who said they have no evidence PPI, while possibly harmful in large doses by itself, will harm people when mixed with other ingredients in the spray.

To complicate matters, the spray planned next month for Santa Cruz County is not exactly the same as the one used for Monterey County. State Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura told reporters that the Santa Cruz County spray uses a different pheromone.

The pheromone is a synthetic version of a substance secreted by the female moth; both aim to disrupt the moths' mating cycle.

We understand why the agriculture department and the pesticide manufacturer don't want to reveal the exact ingredients. Not only are there competitors who want to know how to replicate the spray, but there is also the sense of unwarranted public overreaction caused by disinformation or misleading research by well-meaning citizens who may not have the scientific background to provide reliable information.

The Santa Cruz City Council, for instance, is hoping to get other cities in this county to join them in a lawsuit that would prohibit the spraying next month.

All the better reason for both the state and Suterra to deal with the ingredient issue head-on. By providing a list of the ingredients and, as the Monterey County judge is requiring, the scientific evidence on the health and safety aspects, they would diminish the perception they have something to hide.
by LA Times (Steve Chawkins)
By Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
October 13, 2007
Northern California activists fighting aerial spraying to stop a destructive moth say they're heartened by a judge's decision to temporarily halt the state program.

Earlier this week, Monterey County Superior Court Judge Robert A. O'Farrell issued an order preventing further spraying to stop the light-brown apple moth, saying he needed more information about a spray component that could have "potentially harmful propensities."

Attacking the moth from the skies over 60 square miles of the Monterey Peninsula has been a contentious issue since the first round of spraying last month.

Afterward, dozens of residents complained to local health officials of illnesses they thought were connected to the spraying, but no definitive link has been drawn.

Just hours before more spraying was to take place Wednesday night, O'Farrell issued the order blocking it at least until a hearing he set for Oct. 18.

David Dilworth, head of Helping Our Peninsula's Environment, which sued to prevent the spraying, called the order "a great first step."

Unknown in the U.S. until it was spotted in Berkeley last year, the light-brown apple moth is a voracious eater that can threaten many fruit and vegetable crops, according to state agriculture officials.

In areas around Santa Cruz County, the site of its heaviest infestation, the state plans to do what it has done in Monterey -- spray artificial moth pheromones in a product called Checkmate, a chemical blend that can stifle the species' ability to reproduce. Spraying in Santa Cruz County is scheduled for next month.

In his ruling, O'Farrell took issue not with the pheromones but with using an inert ingredient called polymethylene polyphenyl isocyanate that has been linked to asthma in spray-painters.

"Neither side has had an adequate opportunity to submit reliable scientific evidence on that issue," he wrote.

Steve Lyle, a spokesman for the state Department of Food and Agriculture, said in a statement that officials "pledge to work to provide Judge O'Farrell with the information he requires to issue a decision."

steve.chawkins [at]
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