SAN FRANCISCO, Calif.–Environmentalists filed suit today against the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), alleging that the state did not disclose the risks to human health and the environment caused by the use of insecticides to control the glassy-winged sharpshooter. The insect spreads Pierce’s disease, a bacterial infection lethal to grapevines.
Plaintiffs Californians for Alternatives to Toxics (CATs), Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and People Opposed to Insecticide Spraying on Neighborhoods (POISON) charged the state agency with failing to provide required protections from the effects of toxic insecticides used in backyards, nurseries, lemon groves, highways and other areas where the glassy-winged sharpshooter has been found.
“When state agencies can take broad measures such as ordering up insecticide use on our private property right in our backyards, they must reveal how this can hurt us and what they’re going to do to prevent such harm,” said Patty Clary, director of the lead plaintiff, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics. “By ignoring the law, CDFA has shown that its bias is to protect the interests of big money agriculture at the expense of public health and our environment.”
The groups filed suit to prevent the adoption of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on the state’s plan to prevent the spread of Pierce’s disease. The EIR was ordered by the state legislature in 2001, two years after grape growers panicked over the discovery of Pierce’s disease spreading though vineyards in Riverside County. CDFA began a temporary emergency program to halt the glassy-winged sharpshooter’s movement, relying heavily on insecticides. Environmentalists say that in its current form, the EIR does not take a close enough look at alternative control methods.
“The state dismissed non-toxic alternative control methods, even though CDFA could not demonstrate that the pesticides are more effective for stopping the spread of Pierce’s disease,” said Jane Nielson of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), a plaintiff in the lawsuit.
The Pierce’s Disease Control Program has aroused significant community resistance because it has included spraying on private property over the opposition of owners and residents.
“Forced pesticide spraying is an unacceptable practice,” said Lowell Downey, spokesman for POISON. “CDFA has spent millions testing treatment methods on farms but has not tested a single neighborhood in California with alternatives.”
Californians for Alternatives to Toxics has its office in Eureka and members from throughout California. CATs works primarily to eliminate the use of pesticides that can negatively affect human health and the environment.