YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

400 at Camarillo Forum Protest Spraying : Medfly: Crowd criticizes panel of state and county officials over plan to use malathion to eradicate pest.


A crowd of about 400 people packed an eastern Camarillo school gymnasium Tuesday night to protest the aerial spraying of malathion that state officials will start tonight to halt a Medfly infestation.

The meeting--the first event where all Camarillo residents could share their views--measured the outrage of many residents who oppose the spraying plan to eradicate the crop-munching pest that threatens Ventura County's $800-million agriculture industry.

Meeting at the Las Colinas School gymnasium, the crowd criticized the panel of state and county officials who answered questions about the spraying plan that will cover 16 square miles.

"I don't think that they care whether or not this presents a health risk to us," said Beth Fraley, who paraded through the room in handcuffs, a gag in her mouth and a small sign that read "Chem Ag Gag."

"I believe that malathion is a danger to the public's health and its spraying should be stopped," Fraley said. "It's not worth it."

But Ventura County Public Health Officer Dr. Gary Feldman said that while he did not like the idea of aerial spraying, he said the heavily diluted chemical presented no danger to human beings or pets.

"So far as can be possibly known, the health risks are minimal," Feldman said. "I do support the decision to spray given the economic consequences before us."

Feldman and other officials urged the audience to take common sense precautions during the spraying operations: stay indoors; keep pets indoors or sheltered; wash off surfaces exposed to the chemical; wash off fruit before eating it; and keep cars covered or in garages.

But others at the meeting--waving signs that read --"Dehumanization Is a Crime--We Are Not Insects!"--pleaded with officials to consider alternatives to the low-flying, helicopter-spraying operations.

"Why did the people at Leisure Village try to get an exemption from the spraying if this isn't a health risk?" asked anti-spraying activist Leonard Mehlmauer. "Why does the tone of this panel before you sound apologetic?"

Camarillo resident Bonnar Quint said that he too supported the eradication of Mediterranean fruit flies, but not necessarily through the use of malathion. He called for using sterile Medflies to stop the pest. Panelists, including officials from the state Department of Food and Agriculture, responded that growers of the sterile flies could not produce enough of them in time to thwart the infestation.

"I'm against the Medfly, but the spin I've heard tonight does not convince me this is the right approach," Quint said.

While those who opposed the spraying operation far outnumbered those in favor, some audience members said eradicating the pests was necessary, if unpleasant.

"I look at it as a necessary evil," said Virginia Hoover, a mother of two small children and a Camarillo homeowner who lives in the spray zone. "We have to act and at this point I am willing to trust what the government is saying."

Mike Nunez, 36, an avocado packing house employee and Camarillo resident, agreed with Hoover.

"I have worked in the farming business all of my life and I can tell you that if we don't act to get rid of this fly, the whole county is going to be in trouble," Nunez said. "I have two kids and I know this stuff won't hurt them."

Los Angeles Times Articles