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Aerial Malathion Spraying to Begin in Camarillo Area : Medflies: Six-month program covering 16 square miles will get under way Wednesday. The order comes a day after an 86-square-mile quarantine is imposed.

October 07, 1994|JOANNA M. MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

State and Ventura County officials announced Thursday that a six-month program of aerial spraying of malathion will begin Wednesday over 16 square miles in the eastern Camarillo area in an effort to wipe out the state's newest Medfly infestation.

Helicopters will begin night spraying of a sticky combination of the pesticide and corn syrup over homes and fields in an area populated by 29,000 people within a two-mile radius of a field where the Medfly infestation was discovered a week ago.

The order to spray from state Agriculture Secretary Henry J. Voss came one day after an 86-square-mile quarantine was imposed over a larger area of the county and discovery of more Medflies and larvae in an orchard at St. John's Seminary in Camarillo. The most recent find brings the total to 58 flies.

"This is the largest single infestation found in such a short period of time in the state," Voss said at a press conference in Camarillo. "Finding the larvae was a bad sign that there is another generation of Medflies out there."

Voss said authorities decided more quickly to order spraying in Ventura County than they had for any other infestation in the state.

Before Thursday's news conference, in fact, state agriculture officials had suggested that it would take longer to reach the decision.

The speed of the decision angered some Camarillo residents, including Barbara O'Neill Ferris, who first learned of the malathion plan Thursday. "The public wasn't ever given a forum to voice their opinions," she said.

Other Camarillo area residents supported the decision, however. Somis citrus rancher John Borchard called the Medfly a cancer that has to be cut out quickly.

While the announcement of aerial spraying did not mention Gov. Pete Wilson as a participant in the decision, the governor's office made clear that he fully supported aerial spraying.

Kristine Berman, Wilson's deputy press secretary, said the governor will sign an emergency declaration today that will allow the spraying.

The aerial spraying will be conducted 10 to 12 times at two-week intervals over the next six months beginning at about 9 p.m. and lasting until midnight or 1 a.m. Three helicopters flying at about 300 to 700 feet will sprinkle the combination of 1.2 ounces of malathion to nine ounces of corn syrup for every acre.

The boundaries for spraying could be enlarged by another mile if Medflies are found within half a mile of the outside perimeter, Voss said. Aerial spraying is the quickest, most efficient and least costly method to combat an infestation, he said.

It is also the best way to allay the fears of the county's and state's agriculture trading partners, Voss said. Ventura County, where agriculture is the No. 1 industry, produced about $850 million in crops last year.

Ventura County is the state's No. 1 producer of lemons and oranges and No. 2 producer of avocados and strawberries. State officials have feared that the Camarillo infestation could lead to embargoes by Japan and other countries on all California produce, not just Ventura County fruits and vegetables.

"Japan is our largest importer, but we are also concerned that Florida and Texas will quarantine us out of their states, and possibly Louisiana and Georgia as well," Voss said.

Voss estimated the cost of the spraying program at about $1 million, to be shared equally by the state and federal governments.

Fred Meyers, a U.S. agriculture official, said his staff has been in touch with Japanese government officials in Tokyo since the first Medflies were found.

"They were very concerned," he said, adding that the Japanese are sending representatives to Camarillo next week to inspect the region.

Ventura County Agriculture Commissioner Earl McPhail agreed that the spraying was needed to convince importers that Ventura County and California are acting quickly.

"We have learned over the years that our trading partners do not make idle threats," he said.

Voss said the infestation, if not stopped, could affect 11,000 to 12,000 jobs in agriculture and another 15,000 in related industries in the county. But McPhail said the scenario could be far worse.

"If this whole county were quarantined, you could triple those figures," McPhail said. He has estimated that up to $439 million in crops could be lost under the worst-case scenario.

Although no information on any spraying decision was available to the public until Thursday, McPhail said he became convinced that aerial spraying was the best solution on Monday after additional flies were being found every day.

Voss said he received a similar recommendation from U.S. Food and Agriculture officials and that by Monday he had made his recommendation to Wilson. He said he kept the plans secret until Thursday until all details of the spraying program were worked out.

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