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Malathion Controversy

January 21, 1990

The Times' editorial "Learning to Live With Medflies" defies logic. The same respected scientists, Donald Dahlsten and Ken Hagen, were principal advisers to former Gov. Jerry Brown during the 1981-82 massive infestation which encompassed 8 counties and cost more than $100 million to eradicate. Had decisive action been taken regarding recommendations to apply malathion bait aerially, the total infestation could perhaps have been reduced significantly. Over the past 40 years there have been voluminous studies conducted by health officials on the safety of malathion. These studies indicated that malathion bait at 2.8 ounces per acre did not present any significant health risks.

A basic law in toxicology clearly states that "dose" and "exposure" are significant factors in assessing health risks. At these rates health officials do not believe malathion protein bait fits either criteria.

The suggestion that government officials should begin asking "What ifs" and making contingency plans should this super-pest become endemic does not require an in-depth study or action plan. The very thought is abhorrent given the historical negative consequences in regions where the pest is indigenous. To begin with, both agriculture and urban areas would resort to additional pesticides in order to control the pest and reduce crop losses. States and other countries would impose quarantines requiring commercial produce to be fumigated (more pesticides). We would need to brace ourselves and perhaps learn to live with lower quality and higher food costs because fruit attacked by Medfly is reduced to a mass of rotten vegetation.

E. LEON SPAUGY

Agricultural Commissioner

Director of Weights & Measures

Los Angeles County

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