Helicopter spraying (crop duster style) of pesticides in Ojai is unsafe as currently practiced. As spelled out in Ventura County's "Right to Farm" ordinance, its for-profit benefits trump and disregard the public's need for adequate warning and information to safeguard the health of oneself, family, pets, and belongings. These sprayings must be third-party supervised, which the incident in question was not.
Complaints are dishonestly and manipulatively called "nuisance" complaints by the County. The true "nuisance" must be reframed as the irresponsible and reckless spraying of highly noxious chemcials. A "right to farm" cannot include a "right to poison others." These dangers extend to the use of neonicotinoids that are highly toxic bees and banned in the EU. In the age of cliamte collapse and obscene pollution let's catch up with progressive countries and ban these pesticides for our own and others' benefit.
Below is my full letter to the County, for which I have not yet received a response.
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To Whom it Concerns,
April 3, 2019
On the morning of February 22, 2019 I awoke to the sound of helicopter/s. Forty-five minutes later I went outside to see what the commotion was about and saw a helicopter crop-dusting the orchards next door. The helicopter was flying fewer than 100 yards from me. I watched the spray drift in the breeze; it was not a still day. I quickly ducked back inside, mortified and nervous. What were they spraying I wondered? What do I need to do? Where is that spray drifting? Is it safe to be outside? And what about my clothes that were drying on the line? What if my nieces had been visiting; is it safe for them to be outside? And what about my belongings that were also outside and uncovered; would they be covered in whatever they were spraying? Who was there to supervise this spraying to ensure the wind was not too swift, to make sure the pilot did his job impeccably, given the potential danger of his pesticide application?
Too many questions and concerns for an innocent bystander, no?
Once the commotion ended, I called the Ventura Ag department the same day where a gentleman named Scott Wilson at extension #7143 handled my call. He told me that spraying from a helicopter is the same as spraying from the ground. I quickly debunked that argument. What was he trying to hide, I wondered, to make such an illogical argument? I asked to know what was being sprayed. He said he would look into it. Next week I received a call from a new hire from the Ag Department, who ended up passing me to her supervisor, Blanca at extension #7144. She confirmed that there was no one from the County supervising the spraying that morning.
Upon receiving the ingredients of what was sprayed, I noticed Actara on the list, a neonicotinoid pesticide. The active ingredient is thiamethoxam, which is banned in the EU due to its toxic and deadly effect on bees.
I understand the psyllid needs to be managed, and can't we find a better way, and at the very least give neighbors ample warning and information prior to crop-dusting? It's a travesty to use this pesticide when bees are in massive decline and climate change is wiping out insects in this 6th mass extinction event. Currently an average 60% of average animal species populations have gone extinct and we are in the midst of an insect apocalypse with up to 40% of insects worldwide threatened with extinction due primarily to industrial farming methods. You can read (about) the studies here:
It's unconscionable to conduct spraying like without notice and with this pesticide. Children are particularly susceptible to pesticides and there are not adequate safeguards to ensure their safety during such sprays, especially when there is some wind, as there was this day, and no third-party supervision. Nobody should be in the position I was in—wondering and nervous—without any information as to what to do and what was okay or not.
The EPA website about Actara states:
"This pesticide is toxic to wildlife and highly toxic to aquatic invertebrates."
"This pesticide is highly toxic to bees exposed to direct treatment on blooming crops/plants or weeds. Do not apply this product or allow it to drift to blooming crops/plants or weeds while bees are foraging in or adjacent to the treatment area."
"Do not apply directly to water, or to areas where surface water is present, or to intertidal areas below the mean high water mark. Drift or runoff from treated areas may be hazardous to aquatic organisms in neighboring areas. Do not contaminate water when cleaning equipment or disposing of equipment wash waters."
Early spring flowers and weeds were currently blooming during the application; this means bees were present. More, the stream runs directly below where this spraying took place. Was this spraying in compliance with the precautions of this pesticide? Additionally, it rained five days after the spraying took place and there is abundant run-off down the road to the creek in this area. Additionally, what safeguard is provided to wild animals and birds that are under the spray jets of the helicopters during spraying? None that I can see.
I read the "Right to Farm Ordinance," which indicates spraying of pesticides is a right in the agricultural area of Ventura County. Yet, a "right to farm" should not include a right to harass and place in jeopardy the wellbeing of unknowing residents. On page one, item 1b, the ordinance states that "agricultural activities frequently become the subject of nuisance complaints due to lack of information about such operations." Calling the unsafe and irresponsible application of pesticides a "nuisance" is a mischaracterization and dishonest. And it's not a "nuisance" because of lack of information; it's a serious concern due to the health effects of these sprayings. The spraying itself is the true nuisance.
The County's premise regarding such "nuisance complaints" is that "Such actions discourage investments in farm improvements . . . and the economic viability of the County's agricultural industry as a whole." What this says is that the County is willing to put the public's health at risk for profit and favor companies that engage in such operations over the public's health and wellbeing. I understand the desire for financial gain, but it's time we start doing so responsibly, not just thinking about ourselves and our billfold.
Additionally, under item 1d it states "An additional purpose of this ordinance is to promote a good-neighbor policy by advising purchasers and users of property adjacent to or near agricultural operations of the inherent potential problems associated with such purchase or residence." Yet, how does this clause ensure that renters and farmhands are advised? I was never advised of this upon moving onto the property. Regardless, this disclosure is not sufficient "good-neighbor" policy.
At the very least "good neighbor policy" should include a mandatory notifying of neighbors within a broad radius of the proposed spray date, the chemicals proposed to be sprayed, and an information guide to protect one's person, family, pets, and especially sensitive individuals—regardless of what the pesticide label says.
More, the County needs to be present to supervise the spraying. I practice medicine and have a strong science background; I've treated pesticide poisoning. I know the dangers of pesticides, especially to those more vulnerable such as children and the elderly and those with asthma and compromised immune systems. Who is protecting such people during sprayings like this? Nobody. We don't live in the Middle Ages or even in a Third World country where ignorant behavior like this was and is commonplace. I charge the county with negligence and demand a revision of the statutes to prohibit such irresponsible activities.
I finished my conversation with Blanca posing a hypothetical. I asked her, "I don't know if you have children (she interjected she did), but how would you feel if you were outside minding your own business early one morning, enjoying the outdoors with your children, and all of a sudden helicopter/s suddenly appear overhead spraying massive amounts of an unknown liquid from nozzles on their wings? Would you be unbothered? Would you be concerned?" She was silent. And then said, "I understand, Mr. Weber."
Thank you for your consideration, and I'd like to hear from you specifically about: 1) your willingness to get the ordinance changed to make notifying neighbors many days in advance mandatory 2) any violations that might have occurred during this spray given my description of events and label warnings 3) if you agree or are knowledgeable about the science that pesticides endanger the vulnerable population I describe above 4) what options we might work together to implement to comprehensively and mandatorily replace a neonic, bee-killing pesticide to control psyllid and other bugs and 5) the other points mentioned in this letter. Thank you.