War on apple moths moves to S.F., San Mateo counties

State officials will battle the invasive light-brown apple moth in San Francisco and San Mateo counties this year, but for now aren’t planning the intensive aerial treatments linked to health problems.

Higher concentrations of the moth — the larvae of which infest and damage the leaves of grapes, apples and other food crops — were treated with aerial pheromone sprays in Santa Cruz and Monterey counties last year, said Jay Van Rein, spokesman for the California Department of Food and Agriculture. The pheromones lure male moths away from females, preventing them from breeding.

Some in the state are worried about public-health risks associated with the pheromone.

“After the aerial applications in Monterey and Santa Cruz, we saw [643] complaints from folks who described problems ranging from difficulty breathing, skin reactions, blurred vision and altered menstrual cycles,” said Paul Schwamski, director of Pesticide Watch.

Lower concentrations of the moth were found in San Francisco and on the Peninsula last year. This month, crews plan to paint San Francisco light-posts with a combination of pheromone and permethrin, an insecticide that kills the insects. In San Mateo County, pheromone-laced twist-ties will be attached to foliage during the first week of March, Van Rein said.

Although aerial treatments are not currently planned in San Francisco or San Mateo counties, they are a possibility if traps this spring show higher concentrations of the moth, Van Rein said. Aerial deployments are planned in the East Bay.

Even with fewer moths, 81 San Mateo County nurseries and farms have been quarantined. Some farmers had to spend their own money to treat plants before they could sell their produce, said Gail Raabe, county agricultural commissioner.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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