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Experts Say Another Aerial Attack Necessary if More Medflies Turn Up

September 11, 1987|JOHN KENDALL | Times Staff Writer

Like firefighters trying to outdistance flames, worried Medfly experts Thursday recommended another aerial spraying with the pesticide malathion if a second female fly or larvae are found in southwest Los Angeles, about eight miles west of two previous infestations.

Dr. Roy Cunningham, chairman of a science advisory panel made up of Mediterranean fruit fly specialists, expressed concern over the discovery of a female Medfly on Tuesday in a trap near Jefferson Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, near Culver City.

"If, in fact, they find another fly or they find larvae, we have recommended that they immediately go into an aerial spray program in this area," Cunningham told reporters at an El Monte press conference.

Like a Forest Fire

"Just like in a forest fire, you have to get ahead of an advancing front," he said.

If another spraying with a sticky-sweet, malathion-laced bait is ordered, it is expected to cover at least nine square miles. Meanwhile, about 1,700 traps are being deployed, and field workers are checking fruit in the area.

"I think we generally expect that we won't be lucky and have this as just a single-fly find," Cunningham said. "We're hoping for the best."

Members of the scientific panel were uncertain whether the discovery of the new fly was an extension of infested areas east and southeast of downtown Los Angeles, which resulted in two aerial sprayings totaling more than 35 square miles, but they suspect that is.

Sterile Flies Released

After earlier helicopter sweeps over Maywood-Bell-Huntington Park areas and over East Los Angeles, Boyle Heights and City Terrace, tens of millions of sterile male Medflies were released in an attempt to induce the insects to breed themselves out of existence.

Similar releases of sterile flies are planned for the new area, if necessary. But, Cunningham said, the Medfly-breeding facility in Hawaii is nearing its capacity, and officials may have to turn to Guatemala for more flies.

After studying the current eradication project this week, members of the advisory panel, composed of representatives of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, state Department of Food and Agriculture and the University of California, Davis, concluded that the program is being "well carried out."

Paul Engler, Los Angeles County agricultural commissioner, estimated that "around 100" people are engaged in a combined federal, state and county battle against the dangerous pest, which attacks more than 200 varieties of fruits and vegetables.

Cost Nears $1 Million

Cost of eradication efforts is approaching $1 million, a state official said.

Cunningham has no doubt that the current infestation was caused by people smuggling fruit in violation of a quarantine.

"If you look at the history, the problem has gotten much worse in the last 10 years," he said. "One way that we can stop it is to publicize the problem. People that smuggle fruit probably don't realize that they are costing the taxpayer millions of dollars."

He said he favors heavy fines as a deterrent.

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