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For Children's Sake, No More Spraying : Malathion: How can we tell kids that they can't swim, play in the sand or climb the jungle gym? There is virtually no place outdoors they can play.

February 19, 1990|LINDA PILLSBURY and SAM PILLSBURY | Linda Pillsbury publishes Childcare Los Angeles, a guide to finding child care; Sam Pillsbury is a professor at at Loyola Law School. and

The sound of a helicopter overhead is bad news in this city. So often it is the police, their chopper flying in a long grinding circle, its bright light probing the night's secrets. Lately it's been the malathion sprayers that disturb our peace. They come as evening deepens, red dots in the sky, flying in a line as if on a military mission, determined and beyond our reach. We understand the good intentions behind their flights but increasingly question the cost.

A Father's View

I try not to worry too much about matters of public health. I eat and drink in moderation and wear a seat belt when I drive. To do much more, to follow the studies and become obsessed with the latest suspicions interferes too much with the immediate business of living.

So I did not worry much when the spraying notice came. I covered the car and wondered if the helicopters would keep us up at night.

As one spraying led to another, though, as the campaign expanded in scope and intensity with no end in sight, I began to worry.

This is a rain of pesticide that they send down on us, a nerve toxin. It cannot be good for anyone, but most of all I worry about our two small children. We hear a lot of talk about putting children first in Los Angeles, but their real interest seems always to come last.

The spraying question is not simple--I recognize that. An end to spraying poses significant risks to agriculture. And experts disagree about its dangers. Public officials point to a 1980 report which declared that the spraying is safe.

For ordinary citizens it comes down to a matter of trust in public leadership--but that is hard to manage today. The spraying program is run by a state government deeply corrupted by public apathy and big-money influence.

We read that one of the co-authors of the 1980 report says that state officials altered its conclusions so that the report underestimated malathion's dangers. We hear that the stuff sprayed is less pure and thus more toxic than originally thought; we hear that no one knows how the chemical will react to the pollutant-rich Los Angeles air. I read that malathion is a particular hazard to the young and the old. I see a virtual epidemic of respiratory problems of children in the city, and my concern grows.

Politicians always worry more about next month than next year, about next year more than a decade hence. The immediate probability of harm to agriculture for them weighs more heavily than the possibility of long-term health problems.

Politicians argue against spending for environmental change until we know for sure about causes and solutions. Yet when can we be certain about environmental risks? Leadership in this area means dealing with environmental probabilities. It means thinking in terms of generations, not terms of office.

Public officials ask us to trust them on malathion but I cannot. Until a new study is done by politically objective scientists on the way spraying is conducted in Los Angeles, and until such a study provides compelling evidence of health safety, I say no more spraying.

For the sake of my children, no more spraying.

A Mother's View

As a working mother, I have not been an activist on environmental issues affecting children; rather I have responded in a personal way. I passed up apples at the market until assured that they had not been sprayed with Alar; I took my children for blood tests when it was reported that lead poisoning afflicts children who live in renovated old houses; I use cloth diapers. But there is nothing I can do to protect my family from malathion.

One morning last week, I went out to uncover my car and there were pools of malathion caught in the creases of the drop-cloth, mixed with the morning dew. I didn't know what to do with it. If it could eat the paint off my car, what would it do to my skin? Where should I dump it? On the grass?

The kids play on the grass. We have a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old who probably have ingested quite a dose of malathion in the last few months. Even though we bring in the toys and hose down the playhouse, they are not protected. The 2-year-old sucks her fingers, even in between swinging on malathion-sprayed swings and digging in the malathion-sprayed sand. Balls roll over malathion-sprayed grass, picked up by the children who then rub their eyes and wipe their noses. Climbing structures and slides at homes, parks and schools have been sprayed. Drinking fountains and picnic tables, cement play yards and sandboxes have all been sprayed.

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