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Schools and Homeowners Brace for Medfly Spraying : Camarillo: Officials field questions at Leisure Village about effects of malathion. Some residents complain the answers were too vague.

October 11, 1994|JOANNA M. MILLER and JULIE FIELDS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As state agriculture officials finalized plans Monday to spray the properties of 32,400 people in the eastern Camarillo area with malathion to stop a Medfly infestation, homeowners and health and school officials prepared to deal with the aftermath.

Elementary schools within the 16-square-mile spray zone were preparing to cover sandboxes and hose down blacktop and lunch tables before children arrive the morning after the first spraying, scheduled to begin at 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Convalescent homes were advised by public health officials to take similar precautions for outdoor eating areas. And residents were making arrangements to cover cars, fishponds and children's outdoor toys.

"It's regrettable that this is necessary," said Dr. Gary Feldman, Ventura County health officer. "But given the economic consequences and the fact that the health risks are negligible, I do think this is the appropriate decision."

Feldman was one of several state and local officials on a panel at Leisure Village on Monday afternoon, where about 400 people crowded into the retirement community's recreation complex to voice concerns and hear comments from officials.

Questions focused on whether people on medications or those who were ill would be more susceptible to adverse effects.

But many people also wanted to know what they should do to protect their skylights and cars and whether the spraying would have any effect on birds or beneficial insects.

It will not affect birds but would kill beneficial insects as well as pests, officials said. Cars should be covered, and skylights hosed off.

As he left the meeting, 80-year-old Franco Filzi said the officials had not answered many of his concerns.

"They were very vague," he said of official answers about health questions. "They don't know probably themselves the answers. We are so confused."

Marcia Edwards, 55, who lives in Camarillo Heights, agreed that officials' answers were superficial.

"They tried to joke and kid," she said.

But Rose Gassman, 77, said if the Medfly were allowed to spread, many workers would lose their jobs. "We're all concerned about it," she said of the spraying. "But it has to be done. After all, this is a big agriculture county."

Sid Silversher, 78, said he trusted the authorities.

"They know what they're doing. I approve of it because of the impacts to the agriculture. We live a lifestyle where everything is a trade-off."

Ventura County Agriculture Commissioner Earl McPhail told residents that the three pesticide-carrying helicopters would reload three times during the three to four hours it will take them to cover the area, so residents might hear helicopters pass overhead more than once.

"But be assured you are not being treated three times," he said.

Supervisor Maggie Kildee said she had pointed out to agriculture officials that Leisure Village was a retirement community where seniors may be sensitive to the spray. But she was told the area had to be included because of the number of trees and host fruits grown there.

"I support the decision to spray, not because I think it's wonderful, but because I believe it's necessary," she said. "It's a safe and effective method of eradicating the Medfly."

Meanwhile, one local opposition group plotted strategies Monday on how best to inform the public of their point of view and persuade officials to cut short the 10 to 12 applications planned over the next six months.

Economics and politics drove the decision to spray the area without proper concerns for health effects, said Leonard Mehlmauer, a holistic practitioner with a degree in science and herbal and other types of medicine.

"We have politicians who are getting big stars for helping to get this going," Mehlmauer said. "Chemical companies will make a lot of money, the agriculture people will get their crops sprayed and a lot of people will have health effects over this," he said.

"Plain and simple, we're being poisoned."

Camarillo resident Bonnar Quint said he also is trying to make the public better informed of the health risks through a copy of a state report issued in 1991.

Officials are not paying attention to their constituents, he said.

"Why aren't they asking our opinion?" he asked. "Our city leaders are rolling over and playing dead on this."

Quint said officials should take recommendations from their own report, which called for alternatives to aerial spraying, including the use of sterile male flies that would mate with fertile females.

"Both the California Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Agriculture can and should conduct vigilant early pest detection programs and maintain abundant sterile insect production capacity, not just while this recent episode is fresh in everyone's mind, but as long-term public policy so that repetitive aerial malathion-bait applications are not again needed," the report states.

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