A gypsy moth. (File photo, courtesy of Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.)

A gypsy moth. (File photo, courtesy of Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.)

Surrey woman calls for opt-out option ahead of gypsy moth spraying

Government urged to offer opt-out ahead of May gypsy moth spray in Surrey, but province insists spray is safe

A Surrey resident is calling on the provincial government to allow locals to “opt out” of gypsy moth spraying planned in early May, but the province says that won’t be happening.

Unlike the 2015 aerial spraying of 5,000 hectares in Cloverdale that garnered much negative attention and reaction, this next planned treatment will be done by ground and will cover just 46.5 hectares, according to the province. It’s needed due to a growing population of the invasive pest in the area, notes a B.C. government release.

If left untreated, authorities warn, the gypsy moth “could spread to new areas of the province through vehicles, containers, rail cars and marine vessels, and lead to quarantines which would impact agricultural and horticultural businesses in the area.”

See also: Spraying planned in Surrey to eradicate ‘growing gypsy moth population’

In an email to Minister Doug Donaldson on April 13, Surrey resident and city council hopeful Roslyn Cassells said she’s read “around 20 research articles on the effects of the spraying on people, wildlife and the ecology.” She wrote asking for residents to have an option to “opt out” of the spraying.

Further, she asked for the ministry to “apply the precautionary principle and avoid using toxic substances like Btk (Bacillus thuringensis kurstaki) which disrupt our ecosystem and cause animal and human health problems.”

In an interview with the Now-Leader Cassells pointed to a study that looked at 2009 gypsy moth spraying in London, Ontario in which Btk and Foray 48B were used via two helicopter sprays, authored by the late Richard B. Philp, who worked as a professor in the University of Western Ontario’s department of physiology and pharmacology for 43 years until he retired.

According to Philp’s study, “a number of residents experienced adverse health effects” and “at least two pet dogs in the neighbourhood also were sufficiently ill to require the services of a veterinarian.”

Health issues recorded in the report included respiratory issues, stomach pain, sore throat and burning eyes.

The study concluded that government-sponsored health and safety assessments of Btk spraying “habitually tend to minimize, even trivialize” its impact on human health, and that cells and toxins in the spray “have been shown to persist in soil for months or even years following spraying.”

Tim Ebata, a Forest Health Officer for the province, said he is aware of the study but said for Cassells to compare Surrey’s ground spray with large aerial sprays is like “comparing apples to oranges.”

“In my 20 years on the front lines with gypsy moth eradication, I have not received a single health-related complaint from a ground spray,” he said.

“The aerial spray has known seasonal allergy-like symptoms to a small portion of the population like runny noses and itchy, watery eyes but these can be avoided by simply heeding our advice and staying indoors (for half an hour).”

Ebata told the Now-Leader that Health Canada has “reviewed all of the current data, including the material presented in Dr. Philp’s article, and all adverse health reports they receive for alleged pesticide exposures, and use this information to determine if the use conditions need to be amended.”

Ebata stressed that the product being sprayed to eradicate the invasive gypsy moth caterpillar is safe. He noted Btk, which is an active ingredient in the biological insecticide Foray 48B to be sprayed in Surrey, has little to no impact on other organisms.

He insisted Btk is not a chemical, and said it is in fact “on the verge” of getting approved for certified organic farming in B.C.

“People have likely already eaten this stuff if they eat organic produce,” Ebata noted.

He referenced two studies, one that found there was “no significant difference in bird populations” and a second that focused on effects in asthmatic children. That second 2002 study by Marty Pearce, which looked at aerial spraying, concluded that there was “no evidence of adverse effects on a group of children with asthma” in the spray area, “at least under the conditions existing at the time.” In that study, the public was advised to stay inside and close windows and doors during spraying.

“It is possible that if this had not been done, adverse effects may have been,” the study notes. “However, even in those in whom Btk was isolated from their nose within two hours of the spraying, no adverse effects could be demonstrated.”

Back in Surrey, the upcoming spray will be done by ground, with a tentative spray date of May 10.

Ebata emphasized it’s a far cry from the 12,000 hectares of aerial spraying done on Vancouver Island in 1999, he noted, and just a fraction of the 5,000 hectares sprayed by air in Cloverdale in 2015.

“We actually sprayed this area last year,” he said of the planned May 10 spray in Guildford. “There were no resident complaints at all.”


(A map of the planned treatment zone in Surrey, which has been reduced from 62 hectares to 46.5. Photo: gov.bc.ca)

Spraying is needed in this area for the second year in a row due to a “highly perturbed” area behind Dogwood RV Park in Guildford, Ebata explained. “There’s a gully right behind Dogwood RV park that’s extremely steep and we tried just to spray the edge of it (last year) but in fact the moths were deep inside it,” he said. “We’re seriously putting an effort into spraying this gully so we actually have people climbing trees actually spraying down onto the canopy.

“This is a relatively small area, and it’s largely residential,” he added. “We only spray the foliage of potential host trees or shrubs.We’re not spraying flowers or vegetable gardens or lawns but of course there is going to be overspray.”

Aerial spraying wasn’t chosen for this year’s treatment, Ebata noted, because of its proximity to the Port Mann Bridge.

“It’s complicated,” he added. “We were mainly concerned with all the commuters flipping out at aircraft essentially flying at the same height they’re travelling at.”

Ebata said area residents have been given ample notice.

“We’ve done a mailout to every residence in the area, and beyond,” said Ebata. “Every resident knows about this thing, the city has known about it since November. It’s been months.”

In addition, the province says it will send out a two-day notification ahead of spraying “so residents are able to unlock gates, make sure pets don’t escape, or bite our employees. It’s an opportunity to close windows or cover things they don’t want spray on. It’s a courtesy.”

Those in the spray area can also expect a knock on your door before workers enter their property.

Spray dates are weather dependent and the first spray will commence once the gypsy moth caterpillars have emerged – which is expected during the first week of May.

Ebata said the province won’t be offering an opt-out option, like Cassells is hoping for.

“We ran a program in Delta in 2002, and we had an opt-out option there and it turned out two people opted out, and they were quite vehement of not being in the spray,” he recalled. “They ended up being the epicentre and we ended up having to come back. So there are dangers in leaving holes in a spray program.”

But Cassells remains undeterred and has started a Facebook group, NO SPRAY Btk, to help garner support for her efforts. Email Cassells at roslyncassells@yahoo.ca.

Visit gov.bc.ca/gypsymoth for more information.