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Fourth Fly Found; Helicopters Spray Suburban Area

July 26, 1988

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A fourth Mediterranean fruit fly was found just hours before a pair of helicopters sprayed presticide over a 16-square-mile suburban area, but officials said Tuesday they don’t plan to repeat the airborne effort.

The next step in efforts to eradicate the Mediterranean fruit fly, one of the most destructive crop-destroying insects, will be the release next week of about 20 million cobalt-treated sterile flies, said Bill Edwards, chief deputy for the Los Angeles County Department of Agriculture.

After that, he said, there will be daily releases of sterile flies to prevent females that escape the poison from reproducing.

The fourth Medfly was found Monday in a peach tree at a home in the San Fernando Valley community of Reseda, a quarter-mile west of the zone treated with the pesticide malathion.

Gov. George Deukmejian proclaimed a state of emergency for the county last week after two female Medflies were found in traps. The proclamation was a necessary step for spraying the pesticide. A third Medfly, a male, was found Monday morning about a mile from where the two females were found July 20.

The helicopters, laden with 1,100 gallons of the malathion mixed with a corn-syrup bait, began spraying the infested area at 10 p.m. Monday and finished early Tuesday.

Each helicopter made three passes at 500 feet over the area, said Edwards.

″There were no complications. It was a good, clean operation,″ he said.

The Medfly, common in Hawaii and probably carried into Southern California on fruit brought in by tourists, has a potential for spreading rapidly.

The insect is considered a major threat to California’s multibillion-dollar agricultural industry. In 1981, California spent about $100 million to eradicate a statewide Medfly infestation that destroyed $100 million in crops.

Meanwhile, concerned residents deluged hospitals and the county’s Medfly hot line with questions about possible health hazards from the spraying.

″We’ve had a few - a few thousand calls,″ said Robert Dingfelder, a county agricultural inspector.

Medical experts say most residents need not fear the pesticide, which has been diluted to about one ounce for every acre of land sprayed. Only people with serious respiratory ailments might be affected, doctors said.

Nonetheless, officials advised residents to hose down lawns after the spraying, especially if they have pets, and to cover their cars because the spray can corrode auto paint.

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