Veterans of the 1980-82 Medfly war in Northern California recall helicopters being shot at by disgruntled homeowners, Red Cross evacuation centers being set up to shelter spray zone refugees, and even some residents sobbing in the street for fear of what malathion might do.
That infestation--still the largest in the state's history--spread to over 1,496 square miles in eight counties and required as many as 24 sprayings in some spots.
Siddiqui, a veteran of that earlier Medfly war, said 17 cities officially banned aerial spraying over their turf during that infestation. The state went ahead and sprayed anyway.
The city of San Jose went so far as to ban state helicopters from its airport. The state then shifted its takeoffs and landings to a Catholic cemetery and kept the location secret for security reasons.
"I've seen demonstrations with 5,000 people," said Siddiqui, adding that he has received only about 175 letters complaining about the current spraying program--a minor outcry compared to the Northern California Medfly war.
But Siddiqui's boss, Food and Agriculture Director Henry J. Voss, said he is always concerned that the opposition could stop the spraying. With at least six more months of spraying to go, Voss said, there is plenty of time for outrage to build.
"Every time we do this, the temperature goes up," he said.
The department maintains that malathion is safe in the minute doses used in aerial spraying. In fact, state officials say, it's safer than a standard pet flea collar.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Health have both cleared the use of malathion for aerial spraying, saying that the amount used--about 2.4 ounces per acre--poses no significant danger to humans, Siddiqui said.
Malathion is a pesticide commonly used by the agricultural industry and home gardeners to kill such insects as aphis, red spider mites, mealybugs, leaf hoppers, fleas and houseflies. The warning label on a bottle of malathion spray cautions users not to swallow or inhale the pesticide in concentrated form.
But its defenders say that it is one of the safest pesticides in existence and, when diluted to the level used in aerial spraying, is harmless to humans.
In 1981, B. T. Collins, then director of the California Conservation Corps, tried to drive that point home by drinking a glass of diluted malathion.
The mere mention of Collins' performance today evokes sighs of pity from anti-malathion protesters. "God, I hope he wasn't planning on having children," one said recently.
The passage of nine years has only intensified opposition to aerial spraying, which took place in parts of Southern California in 1980, 1981 and 1982 and again in 1987, 1988, 1989 and now 1990.
Opponents of aerial malathion spraying say that while people may be willing to accept occasional fly wars, four straight years have been enough to raise doubts about the efficiency and safety of the sprayings.
Since the discovery of a single Medfly in Elysian Park last July 20, about 50 cities have been sprayed, some as many as four times, according to eradication program spokeswoman Anita Brown.
Affected areas are now sprayed every 21 days, but that will jump to every 15 days in April, and then every seven days in June if the infestation continues. State officials figure that some cities may be sprayed as many as 12 times by the end of June.
"I think the state has got to come through and say that there is a deadline," said Pasadena Mayor William Thomson. "If they don't do that, we, like a lot of other cities, will reach the saturation point and say, 'No more.' "
Rising out of this sticky malathion goo has been a veritable alphabet soup of protest groups, such as Safe Alternatives to Fruit Fly Eradication (SAFE), Citizens Against Urban Spraying (CAUS), Residents Against Spraying Pesticide (RASP), Coalition Against Malathion and Garden Grove Residents Against Malathion Spraying (GGRAM).
A cadre of veteran activists from a variety of \o7 causes celebres \f7 have jumped into the fray.
Carol Rosin, a speaker at several rallies, was one of the leading opponents against the Star Wars space defense system; Phyllis Rabins, a CAUS member, has been a perennial gadfly in the battle to clean up the Operating Industries landfill in Monterey Park, and SAFE's Michael Bell is a longtime animal rights activist.
But many demonstrators had never been involved in an issue before they saw the tiny malathion drops on their cars or heard the thundering flights of helicopters overhead.
Jean Hinsley, a Norwalk housewife and a sales representative for a fashion company, said it was only after she got sick after a night of spraying that she launched into her campaign against malathion. Hinsley polled 100 households in her neighborhood to see if they suffered from the same problems, and later organized a demonstration on a busy corner of Rosecrans Avenue. Only 20 people showed up.