At the request of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) is abandoning its reliance on the aerial spraying of malathion to stop Mediterranean fruit flies from infesting Florida citrus.
"We're aggressively re-evaluating the program. We agree with EPA on reducing the reliance on chemicals, if possible," says Teung Chin of USDA. Instead of relying on widespread aerial spraying of the hazardous pesticide, the EPA wants USDA to develop a plan for states fighting the flies that includes alternatives such as sterile flies and a special red dye.
This would seem to be a shock to the state of Florida, which spent $25 million fighting Medflies and sprayed 37,955 gallons of the pesticide last summer on Orange, Hillsborough, Polk, Manatee and Sarasota counties after the flies were found in traps set as part of the state's cooperative program with USDA.
But, contrary to the feelings of environmentalists and Tampa-based Citizens for the Responsible Alternatives to malathion, state officials continue to maintain that the stuff is relatively harmless and beats the alternatives.
"I don't think (the EPA edict) has any effect on the state program," says Terence McElroy, spokesman for the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. "We do not use malathion indiscriminately."
Regardless, the stuff will remain in the air. Last year, Florida sprayed 100,000 gallons for mosquito control .