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Obituaries

Ida Honorof, 93; radio host crusaded for the environment

March 18, 2007|Elaine Woo | Times Staff Writer

Ida Honorof, an environmental crusader who won plaudits for her investigative reports on pesticide contamination of lettuce in the early 1970s, died of natural causes March 5 in Eureka. She was 93.

For 20 years until the late 1980s, Honorof was known as the host of "Report to the Consumer," a hard-hitting weekly radio program on KPFK-FM (90.7) in Los Angeles, where she produced the show as an unpaid volunteer.

In 1973, about five years into the show, she learned from the operator of a pesticide spray rig about chemical burns on an Imperial Valley lettuce crop. She alerted authorities, who tested the lettuce and found residue up to five times the maximum level permitted of the pesticide Monitor-4.

Honorof was not content to report her findings only to KPFK's relatively small audience but drew national attention to the issue when she held a press conference in Chicago with United Farm Workers head Cesar Chavez.

Thousands of crates of lettuce were ordered destroyed, and Monitor-4 was banned.

Her coverage of the dangers of the pesticide earned an Associated Press award for investigative journalism. It was one of hundreds of stories she reported during a lifetime devoted to environmental and consumer action.

Family members say her feisty spirit developed when she was a child and saw a gangland shooting in Chicago.

It "put a permanent fierceness in her," said her daughter-in-law, Donna Honorof of Seattle. "I think she said, 'I've seen it all now, and don't have to be afraid of anything.' "

So when other children were learning nursery rhymes, a very young Ida was walking picket lines with her Russian-Jewish parents.

At 5, she was arrested, along with her mother and sister, for picketing outside a Chicago bakery. The year was 1919 and the bakery had raised the price of bread to 5 cents a pound, too high for poor families like Honorof's, who struggled to survive on the meager wages her father earned as a house painter.

"We fought for unemployment [compensation] and Social Security when they were dirty words," she recalled in an interview with The Times in 1982. "We were out in front of the Japanese Consulate in the '30s, protesting their invasion of Manchuria. We got our heads busted by the Red Squad and the fuzz."

She graduated from Chicago's John Marshall High School in 1927 and went to junior college but left after six months. "I couldn't see myself going to school while everyone else was starving." She found a job on the "kill floor" of a stockyard and later fought for workers' rights.

When she got married and started a family, she took a long break from activism. For several years, she was involved in a family business and when it expanded she moved to California in 1961. She also operated a family billiards parlor in Van Nuys.

In 1968, after getting a divorce, she became a consumer advocate for KPFK and quickly began sounding alarms. In 1970 she was among the earliest critics of DES, or diethystilbesterol, a hormone used to fatten cattle that was found to cause cancer. In 1981, she campaigned against spraying of malathion to combat the Mediterranean fruit fly.

In 1987 she moved to Eureka to be closer to her family but did not retire. At 74, she plunged into battle against two pulp mills on Humboldt Bay that emitted sulfurous fumes laced with deadly chemical wastes. Along with other local activists, she helped force the mills to adopt cleaner processing methods.

She is survived by a daughter, Faye, of Eureka; sons Donald of Seattle, Richard of Jerusalem and Ben of Seattle; four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Her persistence and hardball tactics made her well-known in the chambers of local government. She fearlessly hectored local officials and was tossed out of at least one Los Angeles City Council meeting when she pressed her case -- against a proposal to add fluoride to the city's water supply -- too vociferously. The 1974 incident resulted in her arrest on suspicion of misdemeanor battery after officers said she kicked them in the legs and groin.

A few years later, Honorof was campaigning against the federal government's swine flu inoculation program. For three months she showed up at Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meetings wearing a sandwich board on which she had scrawled, "Demand to know the true hazards of the swine flu vaccine."

The supervisors prohibited protests in the board chambers and ordered her to remove the sign.

"I would start to do so, then they would say, 'No,' " Honorof later recounted, "because it appeared that I was nude" underneath it.

She was wearing a very skimpy miniskirt.

*

elaine.woo@latimes.com

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