NZ Network Plans People's Inquiry into Aerial Pesticide Spray

WAITAKERE CITY, New Zealand, June 20, 2005 (ENS) - For the first time, a People's Inquiry into the impacts and effects of the aerial spraying of pesticides on people in urban areas, will be held in New Zealand.

The Painted Apple Moth Community Network, which is co-ordinating the inquiry, says it has previously explored every option with the government to obtain an open inquiry into the human impacts and the conduct of these aerial spraying eradication campaigns.

Hana Blackmore, convenor of the Interim Steering Committee for the People's Inquiry, said when all else failed, "We decided to hold an inquiry ourselves."

"This is the first time an inquiry of this scope and nature will be held anywhere in the world. The People's Inquiry will be community-driven and led, which means that it is the community who will determine and agree the scope of the nquiry and its terms of reference."

The People's Inquiry will be held in Waitakere City in November. It will investigate the aerial spraying of Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki (Btk) an organic insecticide that contains a naturally occurring bacterium found in soil.

Blackmore said the inquiry will be held in front of a Commission of "three to five respected members of national and international standing with expertise in the effects of chemicals on human health, human rights, ethics, social impacts and a community perspective."


The spraying of Western Auckland to eradicate the painted apple moth for MAF BioSecurity (Photo courtesy Wanganui Aero-Work)
The Interim Steering Committee says it has already secured the commitment of one international expert, and expects to present the names of all proposed commissioners to the community for their endorsement at a public meeting in July.

"At last the people themselves will get the opportunity, not only to have their experience heard and taken seriously, but to positively contribute to future biosecurity programs and research directions," Blackmore said.

Biosecurity New Zealand says "Btk, when applied at recommended rates, does not harm people, plants, animals or any insects - except for caterpillars. This is because the bacteria only become active in the caterpillar’s uniquely alkaline gut," the agency says.

"Since the early days of the first urban spraying program in East Auckland, there has been a consistent pattern of failing to hear the voice of the people being sprayed," Blackmore said. "Their concerns and experience, particularly of the adverse health effects, have been trivialized and dismissed, and even basic human rights denied."

"It has been successfully used for control and eradication of gypsy moth in a number of cities and towns in North America with no or just a few adverse effects on urban populations," Biosecurity New Zealand says.

Blackmore says there is an urgent need to conduct an inquiry now. "There have been recent warnings that aerial spraying is on the cards against the fall webworm moth in East Auckland, and the Minister of Conservation has granted blanket permission to aerial spray 300,000 hectares of conservation land in Greater Auckland for any moth pest.


The painted apple moth was first found in New Zealand in 1999 in Glendene and Mt. Wellington. Agricultural officials say the moth probably arrived as egg masses on shipping containers from Australia. It is considered a serious threat to native trees and crops. (Photo courtesy CSIRO)
Justifying its use of Btk, Biosecurity New Zealand says the bacterial spray has been used in commercial pest management for over 30 years in Canada and the United States. Extensive studies have been carried out during that time, as required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Health and Welfare Canada and "no significant adverse effects on animal or human health were recorded."

During the past eight years New Zealand's Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry (MAF) has conducted three major multi-million dollar eradication campaigns against incursions of alien moths - the white spotted tussock moth, the painted apple moth and the gypsy moth.

All these campaigns have involved intensive aerial spraying of insecticide over heavily populated urban areas. The extent and duration of all three eradications have been in excess of any urban aerial spraying program anywhere in the world.

West Auckland for instance has experienced over 70 aerial spray events during the 29 months of the aerial spraying program.

The insecticide used was Foray 48B, a formulation containing the active ingredient Bacillus thuringienis kurstaki, and a number of other chemicals. Because this insecticide is based on a biological organism it has been widely assumed to be safe for people. "As a result monitoring of adverse health effects has been grossly inadequate, despite repeated requests for proper surveillance," Blackmore says.


Foray 48B affects caterpillars of the pest moths. (Photo courtesy Auckland City)
The Pesticides Board has approved Foray 48B for aerial spraying in New Zealand. The Ministry of Health assessed the product to ensure its safety in 1996/97 when Operation Ever Green took place to eradicate the white-spotted tussock moth.

But Blackmore says, "Because the Health Risk Assessments determined that health effects would be 'negligible' or 'acceptable', when members of the community have complained of ill health, generally the government has discounted any link with the spray, or determined the effects to be acceptable."

s "During the most prolonged and intensive of the campaigns, that of the spraying of West Auckland for the painted apple moth, over 400 people reported to a community health research project that they had symptoms of ill health resulting from the spray. Several university studies have also identified adverse health effects resulting from the spray," Blackmore points out.

Despire these studies, and the evidence accumulated by the community, all requests for an official inquiry or review into the impacts and effects of the spraying program have been denied.

In 1996, Auckland Healthcare Services (A+) commissioned a study into the health risks of spraying with Btk during Operation EverGreen to eradicate white-spotted tussock moth from the eastern suburbs of Auckland. The study found Btk is not a recognized cause of human infections and is highly unlikely to cause illness through contamination of food. While the spray also contains food residues, preservatives, an acidity regulator, an alcohol and a sugar-like substance as a stabilizer, these ingredients are approved food additives.

"People who had concerns could reduce exposure to the spray by leaving the area during the spray operation," said Biosecurity New Zealand.

Blackmore said today, "Some residents have not only been exposed to the continuous spray program but also faced huge social, family and economic costs and disruption when government evacuation out of the area was necessary for medical reasons."

In the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry's 106 page Statement of Intent for 2005-2006 presented to the House of Representatives, the agency makes only one comment about its aerial spray program, saying, "MAF recognizes the impact that biosecurity actions such as aerial spraying and the use of poisons to control possums can have on people’s lifestyles."

s The Interim Steering Committee will be holding a public meeting with the community at the Kelston Community Centre, Waitakere City on July 28 to discuss the process for and the scope of the People's Inquiry.