22. MALATHION: DEATH FROM THE SKIES
of times over the past 10 years, squadrons of helicopters have taken to the skies
over Southern California spraying a deadly nerve agent originally developed by
German scientists during World War II. The ostensible target of this aerial assault
is the dreaded Mediterranean fruit fly. In fact, the primary victims of the "Medfly
War" have been the citizens of California who must not only foot the bill
for this chemical crusade, but must suffer its toxic consequences as well.
quietly and without fanfare, the United States government has taken the first
halting steps in a plan that could expand this poison project nation wide. In
the name of protecting American agribusiness, the U.S. Department of Agriculture
(USDA) has embarked on a mission aimed at "eradicat[ing] periodic infestations
of the Mediterranean fruit fly from the United States mainland."
rallying around this crusade, the nation should know what the cost has already
been to Californians and what chance there is of success. The economic cost alone
is enormous. The Medfly was originally introduced to the continental United States
in 1929. Since that time, by the USDA's own estimates, roughly $270 million has
been spent on Medfly eradication, including aerial spraying of malathion in California,
Florida, and Texas. Also, by official estimates, California has poured over $30
million into the poison project just since the most recent Medfly infestation
was discovered in August 1989.
It is not just economic costs that are high.
In November 1989, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported "questionable"
findings in previous studies of malathion and ordered more long term investigations
into the potential health hazards of the pesticide. Although these tests will
not be completed for several more years, the California Department of Food and
Agriculture (CDFA) continues to tout the pesticide's virtues, claiming it is "perfectly
safe." Nonetheless, there is increasing evidence of illness from spraying
including a report by a home birthing clinic of a "dramatic increase"
in both miscarriages and intrauterine growth retardation immediately after being
sprayed; a report of a Little League game that was sprayed, resulting in 43 percent
of the participants and on-lookers falling ill; and the case of Nancy Sanchez's
young son Nicholas. On each of the first three occasions that her home had been
sprayed, Nicholas had fallen ill with flu-like symptoms. After the fourth exposure,
he developed an acute sinus infection accompanied by profuse nasal bleeding. Shortly
thereafter, paralysis set in and he was sent to the hospital. Following a spinal
tap, Nicholas recovered use of his legs but could not get around without the aid
of a walker or crutches. An examination by Dr. Alfredo Sadun, professor of neuro-surgery
and ophthalmology at the USC School of Medicine, determined that Nicholas suffered
"classic symptoms of malathion poisoning."
Finally, it appears that the eradication program doesn't work in any
event. Dr. James R. Carey, an entomologist at UC Davis, points out there
is "indisputable evidence that the Medfly has survived every eradication
program since at least 1980 and can therefore be considered endemic"
SSU STUDENT RESEARCHER:
SOURCES: RANDOM LENGTHS, PO Box 731, San Pedro, CA 90733, DATE: 3/1/90
TITLE: "Malathion: Death From the Skies"
CO-AUTHORS: DAVE ARMSTRONG and ERIK ANDERSON
TITLE: "War of the Flies"
AUTHOR: DAVE ARMSTRONG
COMMENTS: Author Dave Armstrong charges that mainstream media
coverage of the potential dangers of aerial spraying of pesticides over
heavily populated urban areas was wholly inadequate. "While the
Los Angeles Times treated official claims of the pesticide's alleged
safety with great deference, it completely ignored the warnings of independent
researchers and the long list of documented poisonings. The full extent
of network TV coverage of the subject consisted of one "Nightline"
episode and a 20-minute segment on "60 Minutes." The "Nightline"
piece, which featured a `debate' between two state officials, focused
entirely on the question of whether or not the spraying should proceed
before the public had been properly convinced of the pesticide's `safety.'
The "60 Minutes" story dealt with the `controversy' that has
developed over the spraying program, but offered no insight into the
legitimate concerns underlying the public's fears. Mainstream newsweekly
coverage was virtually nonexistent. ... and no other publication in
the country has exposed the USDA's plans to expand this program nationwide."
Armstrong believes that the limited coverage Malathion has received
"works to the benefit of three principal groups - the agriculture
industry, chemical companies, and politicians. Malathion manufacturers
are make a fortune selling the pesticide to the state at taxpayers'
expense. Growers thereby avoided the cost of protecting their own industry.
For perpetuating this fraud, politicians are duly rewarded through campaign
contributions from growers and manufacturers." Noting that California's
Governor, Pete Wilson, is heavily subsidized by the chemical industry,
Armstrong suggests that even "cursory media coverage would quickly
expose this cozy relationship." He concludes that there is a strong
correlation between the incidents of Malathion spraying and elections
with spraying halted during heavy campaign periods prior to elections
and started up again following election day.