Healing Our World: The People Want What? Who cares!

By Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D.

The People Want What? Who cares!

There pours forth an unnatural,
a loathsome darkness,
that withers the green,
and wizens the fruit
that was to serve as food for the people.

-- Hildegard of Bingen

What do the scientific observations, opinions and heartfelt fears of eight local environmental and health organizations representing over 25,000 people, one state senator, two state representatives, five city council members, five medical doctors, 20 local businesses and hundreds of mothers and children mean to the Governor, health and agriculture agencies of Washington State? Sadly, they mean nothing!

On May 9, 2000, Governor Gary Locke issued the order that allowed the Washington State Department of Agriculture to spray 775 acres in the Seattle communities of Ballard and Magnolia with pesticide Foray 48B which contains the bacteria Btk.

chopper

A helicopter similar to this one sprayed Seattle's Magnolia and Ballard neighborhoods with Foray 48B (Photo courtesy AgAir Update)
Local citizens created the NO SPRAY ZONE group to protest the spraying and for the last few months, they have been presenting their case to state and local officials.

The spraying campaign, orchestrated by the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA), was in response to the discovery of one Asian Gypsy Moth in the Ballard/Magnolia area in July of 1999 and one moth egg mass found on a Russian ship earlier that year. The egg mass on the ship was destroyed and the ship fumigated. The WSDA declared an "infestation" and proposed the spraying program. Nowhere else in the world to any officials or scientists declare the discovery of one insect an infestation.

"This was a very difficult decision for me," the governor said. "I know some people are very concerned about the possible public health effects of the spray. But there is no credible evidence of significant harm to public health, pets or wild animals."

Locke

Washington Governor Gary Locke (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
But Governor Locke ignored the advice of the chair of the Department of Entomology at Cornell University, Dr. Wendell Roelofs who said, "The catch of a single male moth does not suggest a breeding population in the area and does not by itself even offer proof that a breeding population is found anywhere in the states. It makes more sense to set up a pheromone trap network over a large area to determine if there are any hot spots detected in the next flight."

"The proposed spraying tactic is a huge overreaction at this time," Dr. Roelofs said.

The Governor has ignored the mounting evidence that Foray 48B and its prime ingredient, Bacillus thuringiensis kurstaki (Btk), are harmful to human and animal health and that no long term studies have been done to establish the product’s safety. Here is a summary of the problem:

  1. Even though Bt is classified as "safe" by all the right governmental authorities, no real long term studies have been conducted to suggest that it is safe. The EPA relies on reports and studies generated by product manufacturers.

  2. ALL the uses of Bt and Btk in the field have resulted in harm to public safety. By anecdotal accounts given in public meetings, letters to the editors of publications and on the Internet, countless people say they have been made sick, some seriously, by the spraying.

  3. Many people who get sick do not have symptoms severe enough (in the short term) to warrant going to a doctor. Countless Btk induced illnesses go unreported. When is the last time that you went to the doctor or hospital if you were feeling terribly ill?

  4. Of course there is no "proof" that Bt, Btk and Foray 48B cause harm the way governments measure proof. How can there be - no one is looking for it. Doctors are not generally notified before the spraying and told to test for the presence of Btk in people's tissues. Therefore, when the sick people come in, no one knows to look for anything like Btk.

  5. There is no infestation! In Canada, at least 650 cocoons per hectare must be found to qualify as an infestation. There has been no such discovery in all of Washington. Only 42 moths have been found in the entire state. This spraying program is an overreaction to the concerns expressed by the timber and agriculture industries.

  6. Even in areas of the U.S. East Coast that have been infested, trees are defoliated, but few die. In no case has the ecology been disrupted. There is no proof so far, since the Gypsy Moth was introduced into the U.S. in 1869, that any ecosystem has been affected by the Gypsy Moth. The scientific community is starting to believe that the Asian Gypsy Moth, considered more dangerous because of its appetite for evergreen trees, may never get established in the U.S. because of the significant climatic differences.

  7. The WSDA’s claims that Btk is a naturally occurring bacterium found in soil are wrong. The parent strain, Bt, is found in soil, however the version used for Btk is a purified strain that is many times more powerful than the benign version found naturally. There is considerable evidence that this version is acutely toxic to some people.
The NO SPRAY ZONE group presented their evidence to King County Superior Court Judge J. Kathleen Learned, who turned down their request to block the spray program.

caterpillar

Gypsy moth in its caterpillar stage (Photo courtesy U.S. Dept. of Agriculture)
At 5:15 on the morning of Thursday, May 10, a helicopter began spraying 320 gallons of Foray 48B on the spray zone. The helicopter flew again on May 18. Two more sprayings are planned.

Did people get sick? How will we know? Unless health officials go door-to-door asking, they will never know. They will simply check hospital admission records and claim that all is well. The lies will continue.

The NO SPRAY ZONE group feels that the first helicopter sparying on May 10 was in direct violation of the permit issued by the Washington State Department of Ecology. The permit states that "The applicator shall limit spraying of B.t.k. to times when winds are less than ten (10) miles per hour to minimize drift of the spray." Wind speeds of 17 to 24 miles per hour were measured that morning by wind gauges around the region. I live in the spray zone and the wind was blowing hard.

The permit also said "the applicator shall minimize direct application of B.t.k. to open water and wetlands." Television cameras recorded the helicopter flying and spraying directly over Salmon Bay.

Rogue agencies like the WSDA must be called on their irresponsible and unscientific behavior. When will enough evidence be enough? When will the wishes of the people matter? When will we all stand up and say stop?

The time is now - before the next aerial poisoning.

RESOURCES

1. The NO SPRAY ZONE maintains a website on the issue at http://www.nosprayzone.org

2. I wrote about the health affects of Bt and its strains earlier this year on the Environment News Service. See that article at http://www.ens.lycos.com/ens/feb2000/2000L-02-27g.html

3. Read another Healing Our World article on the poor process used by the EPA to declare that toxic chemicals safe at http://www.ens.lycos.com/ens/may2000/2000L-05-02g.html

4. Read an article on the effects of strains of Bt on humans and animals from the Journal of Pesticide Reform at http://eap.mcgill.ca/MagRack/JPR/JPR_22.htm

5. Read the letter written by the Chair of the Department of Entomology at Cornell at http://www.nosprayzone.org/Roelofs/index.html

6. Read 151 reasons not to spray compiled by the NO SPRAY ZONE at http://www.nosprayzone.org/btk_151.html

7. Read an eyewitness account of someone who experienced being sprayed when Vancouver lost their battle against Btk at http://www.ens.lycos.com/ens/may99/1999L-05-21-04.html

8. Email Governor Locke at http://www.governor.wa.gov/contact/govemail.htm and express your opinion. See who else to contact at http://www.nosprayzone.org/email/index.html

9. Find out who your elected representatives are and e-mail them. Tell them it is time to put public health above business success. If you know your Zip code, you can find them at http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/ziptoit.html or you can search by state at http://www.webslingerz.com/jhoffman/congress-email.html. You can also find your representatives at http://congress.nw.dc.us/innovate/index.html

{Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D. is a writer and the manager of Discovery Park for the City of Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation. He can be found in his new home in Seattle, watching for the next volley of spraying. He lives in the spray zone. Please send your thoughts, comments, and visions to him at jackie@healingourworld.com and visit his web site at www.healingourworld.com}