GYPSY MOTHS are widely considered among the most virulent of larval creatures, gobbling up foliage from the Eastern seaboard to the Pacific Northwest. Last year, eight gypsy moths and two egg masses were found in the Crown Hill neighborhood in Ballard. While eight moths hardly qualify as a massive infestation, the Washington state Department of Agriculture (WSDA) is determined to stomp them out, even if that means stomping on the will of 38 Crown Hill residents who have refused or failed to sign a consent form allowing agency workers onto their property.
The agency, which encountered similar stiff resistance from Ballard homeowners during last year's spring spraying season, issued notice that it was seeking an "administrative warrant" last week that would allow WSDA workers to enter the Crown Hill properties and spray the trees and shrubs with a biological pesticide Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki (Btk) three times between April and June.
Rod Gowdy, a Crown Hill resident who worries that his 5-year-old son and dog will be exposed to the pesticide, hopes to fight the warrant, which will be considered in Superior Court April 25. "The pesticide's going to be in the house and on my boy and his bed—I don't think that's a healthy environment," Gowdy says.
No one denies that the gypsy moth, which has infested 18 states, is a serious threat to foliage. WSDA spokesperson John Lundberg calls it "one of the most destructive and persistent non-native pest insects ever to enter the U.S.," and even the anti-spraying group No Spray Zone agrees. The debate centers on whether Btk—or more accurately, its inert ingredients, believed to include an endocrine disrupter and a highly toxic disinfectant that's been banned in the Netherlands—poses a health or safety risk to humans, pets, and other living creatures. Lundberg says the pesticide "does not cause illness and has an excellent safety record."
Opponents of the spraying campaign claim, however, that the health effects of the pesticide have not been fully studied. "We can't positively say this stuff is really safe, and yet they are spraying it all over the place," says Claude Ginsberg, president of No Spray Zone.
Erica C. Barnett