Angry Toxicologist

Perhaps I should call this entry Mr Kawamura, CA secretary of the state department of Food and Agriculture, is a moron.


The Monterey area has a problem with the light brown apple moth. Apparently it’s been there for a while but now the state is concerned. They want to spray a pheramone to disrupt the life cycle. The EPA gave them emergency clearance to spray Checkmate from an airplane over the area both agricultural and residental. The people of the Monterey peninsula don’t want to be sprayed with something that the EPA didn’t give a full review to. The state did it anyway. Predictably, the citizens got more angry but the state still plans to spray again next week. They have told the citizens that they can have public meeting about it, but it hasn’t been scheduled. So, you’re going to spray but let’s talk about it after it has happened. Huh?

Please read this Monterey Herald article to get the real flavor of the Mr Kawamura’s attitude. A few quotes:

We have to do a better job of helping people understand why we are here

Okay, not terrible but he is subscribing to the one-way-street therory of communication (proved ineffective 4124 B.C).

Maybe if we were here with the medfly it’d be better understood

Again with the one-way street. I’m right, I’m just misunderstood. Wah.

Kawamura said if there were cause for postponing the spraying operations, health authorities investigating the reports of illness would already have notified them to make changes

Impression given: Man, I’ve got no clue as to what’s going on. I don’t have positive reasons to go ahead, but no one has stopped me yet!

We are not here because we want to be on your Peninsula. We are here to protect your Peninsula because you have a pest

Translation: Don’t you understand I’m protecting you? You’re so ungrateful! Wah! (A great method for making nice with the locals. Perhaps this guy does mediation on the side).

Here’s the doozy:

People don’t like the inconvenience, the background noise, the history that comes with concerns about aerial application

Translation: I don’t have to hear what the people don’t like; I’ll tell them what they don’t like and they’ll like it! And all those things that they don’t like, they’re rediculous….No my name isn’t Mr. Strawman, it’s Kawamura; why?

Yeah, it’s the noise they don’t like, not the health concerns of pheramone capsules being rained down from the sky on their heads.

To all you public servants out there, it’s called ‘serving’, not ‘deciding what’s best for people and then shoving it down their @#$&* throats’. One of the things that Mr Kawamura doesn’t understand is that people won’t be happy with him unless he truely listens. That means being open and most importantly it means accepting influence on the decisions (not final say but influence). I’ve seen this so many times: Group x has a concern; Group-in-charge won’t change it’s mind but it sets up a meeting so group x can have it’s voice heard with no real intention of changing anything. They aren’t solving the problem. You have to take people and their concerns seriously. For one, you’ll never get them on your side unless you do. Secondly, you may be wrong. Gasp! How could these local yahoos be right and I, Mr Public Health, PhD, MD, DABT, MPH be wrong? It’s happend before, bub; trade in your high horse for a pony.

It doesn’t look like Checkmate is that dangerous. However, they should address the citizens concerns and all the reports of illness that followed the first spraying before they do another (for scientific as well as public relations reasons). Given that the moth has been around a while and some countries barely consider it a pest, it doesn’t sound like an emergency. In the meantime, pheramone trap bags can do a lot of good; in fact, they may make spraying unnecessary.


  1. #1 sonyala
    October 5, 2007

    This is a nice correlary to the CDC thimerosal bit.

    I’m pretty convinced that CDC made their jobs much harder and strengthened the voice of conspiracy theories by being so bad on thimerosal. (i.e. not wanting to admit they were wrong, not urging docs to dump mercury-containing shots, and using misleading language on their website to cloak the fact that the flu shot has mercury.)

    My 2 years of public health school were pretty standard training in “becoming an expert” w/out much critical reflection about public fears over vaccines, arial applications of pesticides, HIV drugs, etc…

  2. #2 JLowe
    October 6, 2007

    This was a stroll down memory lane for me. In 1981, just a few years out of college, I worked for the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s worker health and safety unit (which has since moved to Cal-EPA), conducting exposure studies and monitoring pesticide illness reports. I spent several months working on the Mediterranian Fruit Fly eradication program, which involved aerial spraying low doses of malathion over the entire Santa Clara County. So, I got to see firsthand the ineffectual public involvement process (decide-announce-defend at its finest), the resulting public outrage, and the efforts of bureaucrats such as myself attempting to explain that the risks associated with this use of malathion were small, with people having none of it.

    I’m sure there’s been other aerial spraying programs over urban areas in the intervening time. What’s amusing for me is that the experts appear to have learned nothing in the past 25 years about how to involve the public and gain their acceptance (or at least tolerance) for such programs.

  3. #3 AngryToxicologist
    October 9, 2007

    Sonyala, you are right on. Even the programs in Risk Communication are based upon the tried and failed “decide-announce-defend” plan as JLowe put it.

    What’s even more amusing to me, is that such programs aren’t based at all of what works for people, but what we think should work for people. Ironically, arrogance is the main reason public health agencies loose respect (I’m looking at you CDC).

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