'We can't let this happen': Moms, kids protest moth spray
Chanting "protect our kids" and "stop the spray," mothers and children marched in Corte Madera on Saturday to protest a state plan for the aerial spraying of pesticide to attack the light brown apple moth - an insect activists contend is harmless.
"There are enough things we try to do already to protect our children, and now the government is going to spray our school yards," said Andrea Sumits, 38, of Fairfax, as she pushed her 16-month-old twins in a double stroller. "It's outrageous."
State agricultural officials argue that the moth poses a serious threat to California's agricultural crops. To date, more than 200 of them have been trapped in Marin. To combat them, the state plans to begin aerial spraying a pheromone-laced pesticide in Marin and other counties in August.
In protest, several hundred demonstrators, many of them women with children in tow, marched from the Town Center shopping mall to the Corte Madera Town Park for an anti-spraying rally involving environmental organizations from seven counties, including Mothers of Marin Against the Spray and Stop the Spray Marin.
The tone was one of anger and disbelief that the state would spray a pesticide that opponents contend is made up of chemicals that are harmful if inhaled, especially to children whose lungs are still developing.
"I live here because of the healthy environment, but my husband and I are considering moving if they do this," said Aylin Yaser, a 38-year-old Fairfax resident who is eight months pregnant. "It's hard to believe they would do this in Marin."
That feeling was echoed by one of the speakers, 18-year-old Branson School senior Jessica Assaf of Teens for Safe Cosmetics.
"We can't let this happen in Marin County, where 'organic' and 'health' are two of our most used words," she told the crowd.
"It's time for America to grow up and realize that certain things are unacceptable," Marin Supervisor Charles McGlashan said angrily from the podium, referring to spraying pesticides on urban populations without adequate testing.
He is leading an effort by the board of supervisors to take Marin's case to Washington, D.C., urging federal officials to downgrade the moth's pest designation.
On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sent a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, raising questions about the health effects of the spraying, the economic viability of alternatives and whether spraying would be effective in eradicating the moth.
Last fall, hundreds of illnesses were reported in the state's Central Coast area after federal and state officials sprayed residential neighborhoods in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties to combat the moth. State health experts subsequently reported that there wasn't enough information to determine if the sicknesses were caused by the spraying.
"That little bug hasn't harmed us, but the spraying will," said Naomi Newman of Mill Valley, who marched in the protest wearing a chemical protection suit and a gas mask over her nose.
In response to Saturday's protest, A.G. Kawamura, secretary of the state Department of Food and Agriculture, released the following prepared statement:
"I urge all Bay Area families to remember this eradication is based on the best science; a decade of worldwide aerial pheromone applications shows no indication of human health threats and I assure them that a product for aerial treatment in 2008 will not be chosen until it is proven safe to people, pets and the environment.
"I also encourage everyone rely on scientifically proven research and ignore false information that causes an alarming amount of unwarranted fear."
From the podium, speakers announced other local anti-spraying events being planned, including a benefit concert on June 8 with the Grateful Dead's Bob Weir, actor Peter Coyote and singer Maria Muldaur, who was part of Saturday's march.
A benefit for Stop the Spray Marin, the show will be from 1 to 6 p.m. at Sausalito on the Bay, 2330 Marinship Way.
"I encourage you to keep the pressure on," Joe Nation, a candidate for the state Senate, told the demonstrators. "This is the beginning of the end of pesticide use in California."