Residents question spray safety

Fraser Health says one person went to hospital as a precaution after aerial spraying to combat invasive gypsy moth.

A helicopter conducts aerial spraying over homes in Cloverdale to combat the invasive gypsy moth.

As Cloverdale residents geared up for another round of aerial spraying this week to combat the invasive gypsy moth, there’s growing concern about the treatment agent being used.

More than 4,500 hectares in Surrey and another 300 hectares in Surrey-Delta are being treated with Foray 48B.

The first set of early morning (approximately 5:30 to 7:30 a.m.) treatments, conducted April 15 to 19 and broadcast by low-flying helicopter, caught some people off guard.

Tanya Rowlands said she and her husband developed a sore throat and dry cough, and her dog became ill, requiring an expensive trip to the vet.

“I attribute all of this to the spraying,” she said. She has concerns over the formulation of the spray agent and is not convinced it’s safe.

Another resident launched an online petition hoping to persuade the Forest Ministry from continuing the aerial treatment.

Ryan Bennett also started a Facebook page asking the B.C. Ministry of Environment to stop the spraying.

“Health Canada says Btk is safe but it’s not Btk we care about it’s Foray 48B – it reads right on the label that it is not okay for human contact either direct or by drift,” Bennett said, adding he and his family members have experienced symptoms.

As of April 27, the petition had gathered more than 1,000 signatures.

Bennett planned to file an appeal with the environmental appeal board but said it was denied, prompting him to organize a protest outside Surrey-Cloverdale MLA Stephanie Cadieux’s office Saturday morning that drew more than a dozen people.

Round two of the aerial gypsy moth spraying, set to begin Monday, was delayed by rain, but was expected to start Tuesday and last four days, with the third and final application to begin May 11.

The targeted areas include most of Cloverdale, from the Langley border to 144 Street, between Highway 10 and 80 Avenue.

The spray – Foray 48B – contains the bacteria Btk, which is used to control caterpillars. It kills larvae after they ingest it, but is not toxic to humans, or other mammals, plants, birds, fish, honeybees or other beneficial insects.

It’s approved for use on organic farms.

While there have been a number of unconfirmed reports on social media of residents reporting symptoms associated with spraying during round one of aerial treatment, Fraser Health isn’t backing up those claims.

“Fraser Health is aware of only one incident where an individual came to hospital as a precaution after not feeling well after the aerial spraying,” Tasleem Juma, senior consultant, public affairs, with Fraser Health, told The Reporter.

“We understand people have concerns regarding the gypsy moth aerial spraying over Surrey, Cloverdale and Delta,” Juma said, adding Health Canada has approved the product for aerial application over populated areas.

“The active ingredient, Btk, is only effective in a caterpillar’s stomach. It is not harmful in humans, livestock, birds, pets, fish or bees,” Juma said.

“It’s important to know that if untreated, the moth could cause significant damage to the area’s forests, orchards, farms, and urban trees,” Juma added, directing the Reporter to a five-page Ministry of Forests FAQ on the gypsy moth spray program.

However, on Monday, “as a precautionary measure,” Fraser Health advised residents to avoid contact with the spray and stay indoors, with the windows and doors closed, for at least 30 minutes after the spray has been completed.

Residents may wish to wait five hours after spraying in order to “air out any concentration of Btk that may have entered the house through air vents or other openings,” said Dr. Lisa Mu, Medical Health Officer for Fraser Health.

The spray leaves a residue of droplets that can be removed with water and a bit of scrubbing, but normal weather will eliminate them in about a week, she said.

Also this week, residents received a reminder notice in the mail from the Ministry of Forests that said people with health concerns can contact HealthLink by calling 811 and can also view a health fact sheet at www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthfiles/hfile90a.stm.

Cloverdale’s location at the crossroads of Highways 10 and 15 add to the ministry’s concern the moth could expand its territory by “hitchhiking” on human transportation, the notice read.

“The treatment area is of particular concern do the the boat, rail and heavy automobile traffic in close proximity to agricultural production and the U.S. border.”

The Forest Ministry FAQ says the area where moths have been found is too large to effectively treat by ground.

“Public safety is paramount,” it states. “Health Canada regulates the use of pesticides. They approved the product being used for aerial application over populated areas. They are the experts and we rely on their expertise.”

The ministry also defends its public awareness strategy of advertising in English and southeast-Asian newspapers in the application area, presentations to municipal councils, and an open house on March 3 at the Surrey Museum .

The moths pose a threat to fruit-growers, because gypsy moths eat the leaves of fruit trees – particularly apple trees, and blueberries and hazelnuts.

The province’s trading partners may set quarantine and trade restrictions on trees and plants.

It’s estimated the program will cost $1.3 million.

For up-to-date information, call the Gypsy Moth 24-hour info line: 1-866-917-5999 or visit the Ministry of Forests website at www.gov.bc.ca/gypsymoth.

See also:

Gypsy moth spray treatment planned, March 2, 2015

Aerial spraying to control gypsy moth, Nov. 4, 2014

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