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Medfly Spraying Declared a Success : Agriculture: Helicopters sprinkle area with malathion and corn syrup mixture. Five residents file illness reports.


The first of 12 aerial malathion applications to combat Ventura County's first Medfly infestation was declared a success Thursday by the state and federal agriculture officials who engineered the operation.

The Medfly hot line, which took 1,266 calls during the day before it closed at 1 a.m. Thursday with the end of spraying, and another 400 calls from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, reported that five residents had filed illness reports.

They complained of watery eyes, pulmonary pain, headache, skin rash, thick tongue, swollen glands or irritated nasal passages, a hot line spokesman said. No one went to the emergency room at Pleasant Valley Hospital in Camarillo.

Three other residents called the hot line to complain that their homes had been sprayed, even though they were outside the 16-square-mile eradication zone, which covered the homes of 32,400 residents in eastern Camarillo and Somis.

Inspectors were sent to all three locations to test residues to determine whether the areas had been sprayed. No results were available Thursday, officials said.

The spraying began on schedule just after 9 p.m. Wednesday, with three helicopters sprinkling the area with a combination of malathion and corn syrup used as bait to attract the flies.

Although helicopter pilots were concerned about night flying over hilly terrain, there were no problems, said Patrick Minyard, who is coordinating the aerial spraying program for the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Minyard said lights were placed on top of the hills south of Las Posas Valley to identify them. When spraying resumes Oct. 27, there will be a beacon on top of the hills just north of the Conejo Grade as well.

"But these pilots are pros," he said of the staff of San Joaquin Helicopters, the Delano outfit hired by the state for the aerial applications.

Although authorities said there may be as few as 10 applications, Minyard said 12 are more likely, with the last outing during the first part of April.

"If there were a very warm winter, that would shorten the life cycles of the fly," he said. Barring that, "we will go through 12 sprays."

There are no plans to use sterile Mediterranean fruit flies in Ventura County to mate with fertile females to stop reproduction, Minyard said.

"The decision to use aerial treatment was made at the highest level of government," he said, adding that it is the fastest and most efficient method to rid the area of the crop-destroying pest.

Anxiety over spraying may decrease now that residents have been through it once, said Rex Laird, executive director of the Ventura County Farm Bureau.

"Hopefully, when the second spraying comes, there won't be as much Angst ," Laird said. "And then with the third and fourth, it will be as commonplace as something like this can be."

Some residents said they never were anxious.

"I think the dangers are overrated," said Milton Nadel, an 80-year-old Leisure Village resident who went out during the spraying for an ice cream bar.

Another resident who lives in the eradication zone called the Medfly hot line to complain that "he had covered up his property and then didn't get sprayed," said the hot line's manager, who asked not to be identified. "He wanted to know what was the point."

The first application came nearly two weeks after two egg-carrying Medflies were found in an orchard on the grounds of St. John's Seminary in eastern Camarillo.

To date, 63 flies have been found. The finds prompted the state and federal governments to impose an 86-square-mile quarantine and begin the aerial spraying program.

But the spraying may help convince a delegation of Japanese officials touring the county that the state's program will prevent exports of Ventura County fruit to Japan from contaminating Japan's agriculture industry, authorities said.

The delegation will visit area packinghouses and the quarantine zone in the county for another two days, Laird said.

The Japanese have already said they will accept no fruit from the quarantine zone. But county agriculture officials fear that the Japanese, who import one-third of the county's $216-million lemon crop each year, will cut off trade relations with the entire county.

"Their opinions are critical as far as our exports are concerned," Laird said.

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