Wednesday, May 22, 2024
May 22, 2024

Community, LCC weigh in on moth spray issues

By ROBB MAGLEY & GAIL SJUBERG

Driftwood Staff

Salt Spring officials are fielding community concerns about recent aerial spraying for the invasive spongy moth — worries fueled, they said, by misinformation online. 

Messages spread via the internet include allegations the spraying violated conditions of the permit issued by the Ministry of Environment for application of the bacteria-based insecticide Foray 48B, which took place May 6 over a 48-hectare area centred on Elizabeth Drive. 

While islanders seem to agree a spongy moth infestation would endanger local trees, at the last meeting of Salt Spring’s Local Community Commission (LCC) Thursday, May 9, commissioners lamented that because of the online discourse, much of what they had heard directly from their constituents seemed misinformed. 

“My concern about it is that there’s a lot of inaccurate information that’s spreading in the community,” said commission member Brian Webster, characterizing what he’d seen online as “about three parts inaccurate information to one part accurate.” 

In online posts, some islanders alleged the product causes a wide range of health effects — and that the BC Ministry of Forests-contracted aircraft sprayed during a period of excessive wind, endangering Salt Spring waterways. In a communique sent to the Driftwood and multiple government offices via email, Salt Spring resident Oona McOuat said she witnessed high winds from her vantage point on the north end of Mary Lake — an assertion she supported with weather data from a privately owned monitoring station seven kilometres away from the spray area — and that the plane “sprayed directly over Duck Creek” downstream of St. Mary Lake, and the spray drifted back over the lake itself.

McOuat provided, and posted online, photos of the aircraft and a video showing swaying branches and waves on the lake, which she said proved May 6 was not a safe day to spray due to wind levels. 

Driftwood coverage — from beside an open field inside the target zone — reported practically windless conditions throughout the May 6 early-morning spraying, including about a half-hour before the aircraft arrived and just after it left the area. 

A group of about 15 islanders gathered in Centennial Park on Saturday to share information and encourage a demand for government to halt the next planned spray session — tentatively set for the early hours of Thursday, May 16, weather permitting — and to consider alternate spongy moth eradication methods instead. They expressed concerns about the potential impacts of Foray 48B on human, animal and lepidoptera health, and said they felt the notice given to residents was inadequate. A number of attendees living in the affected area said they did not receive advisory postcards sent in the mail, see pesticide use permit ads or stories in the Driftwood and on its website, or signs erected on roadsides. Some people were caught off-guard out walking their dogs as the spray event occurred, they said, and other vulnerable people were likely affected.

Foray 48B — like related products 48F and 76B — is a water-based suspension of the Bacillus thuringiensis variety “kurstaki” (Btk) bacteria, designed specifically for forestry applications, according to manufacturer Valent Bioscience. Available products that contain Btk are certified for use on produce labelled “organic” by the Organic Materials Review Institute; the bacteria itself is often found in soil, according to B.C. government officials. 

During a specific period in a moth’s life cycle, the insect will die if caterpillars ingest live Btk bacteria; once the product is sprayed, according to provincial officials, those bacteria only survive for about a week, making the use of Btk attractive for targeted spraying without endangering other insects that develop at other times of year or under different conditions. 

A list of Foray 48B’s non-bacterial inert ingredients have been made available to multiple governments, including Canada’s; after analyzing them for health considerations, each agreed to keep the specific formulation in confidence to protect those “trade secrets” from competitors. 

When asked if the North Salt Spring Waterworks District was concerned about the spraying’s impact on water supply, NSSWD CAO Mark Boysen said, “Our primary concern was that the NSSWD was not engaged or formally notified before the spraying. We reached out to the Province prior to the spraying to confirm if the St. Mary Lake community water supply was considered in their planning. The ministry shared that it was considered and addressed through the buffer zone.” 

Capital Regional District director Gary Holman told fellow LCC members he spoke with Dr. Murray Fyfe, Island Health’s medical health officer for the region, who told him while he did advise people as a precautionary measure to stay indoors during spraying, that was “about it.” 

“He assured me that there’s a long history of using Btk,” said Holman, “and that there have been no documented health effects.”   

While Btk products have been used for decades, there have been reports of health effects. A 2003 article published in the New Zealand Medical Journal studied hundreds of residents in one neighbourhood — through symptom checklists and questionnaires measuring health perceptions — before and after an aerial spraying there of Foray 48B. That study found the spraying to be associated with increased reporting of upper airway, gastrointestinal and neuropsychiatric symptoms, as well as “a reduction in overall perception of health in the exposed population.” 

In a 2005 article published in the peer-reviewed journal Psychosomatic Medicine, researchers studied the same questionnaires and discovered that residents’ worries about “the effects of modern life on health” strongly influenced the attribution of symptoms and beliefs about health effects from the spray.  That study concluded the number of symptoms reported after the spray “was most closely related to the number of symptoms reported at baseline.” 

“I’m relatively familiar with what’s being sprayed,” said Webster, an apple orchardist, “and I’m confident Health Canada and the provincial Ministry of Health know what they’re talking about when they say what’s being sprayed is not a health risk to anyone — or any mammal, or any bird, or any fish, or any flying insect.” 

B.C.’s Environmental Appeal Board recently dismissed an attempt to halt spraying in B.C. brought by Communities United for Clean Air, a committee of Freedom Rising-affiliated political activism group BC Rising. In a decision released May 3, the board found, in part, that the appellant’s “evidence [did] not support a conclusion that any of the human health effects they describe are likely to occur.”

Rain or high winds could postpone any treatments until the following suitable morning. For up-to-date information visit gov.bc.ca/spongymoth-news

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