"We got a lot done in Santa Cruz," says Nancy Lungren, a spokeswoman for the Department of Food and Agriculture. The three-year program to control the moth is just in its infancy.
"Judging from our progress, Friday will likely be the last night," says Lungren adding that some more sprayings are needed in Salinas and Prunedale.
Last Thursday and Friday, concerned officials took advantage of the clear weather to spray a controversial pesticide over coastal areas between Santa Cruz, Aptos, Scotts Valley and Monterey County.
In addition to the displeasure over the pesticide used, residents protested the decibel attack by the flying planes. "It felt like World War II or something," says Hilary Hultzen, who is staying in a truck trailer outside her brother's home on Santa Cruz's Westside.
"We're all a little freaked out," she adds.
The white, two-engine planes made take-offs from the Salinas airport to Santa Cruz County, spraying at heights of 500 feet and above. According to state officials, release of the pesticide over the ocean and other waterways, was avoided.
Use of the pesticide has already sparked at least three lawsuits. State officials reported 663 calls Thursday night to its safety hotline.
"Not all were hate calls," recalls Lungren. "They were more about wanting information, but we got plenty of hate calls."
Some callers reported feelings of malaise. These echoed the charges of nearly 200 residents in Monterey County who complained of upset stomach and respiratory problems after a spraying in September.
According to the state department, aerial application of the pesticide CheckMate LBAM-F is necessary to prevent the moth's spread and limit potential damage to California's agricultural industry. The chemical is said to act as a pheromone, disrupting the male moth's mating behavior. The moth is known for its voracious appetite, most notably in its native Australia.
The spraying program was launched first at Monterey Peninsula. After Santa Cruz County, it is expected to move to the Berkeley and San Francisco areas, by February or March. State officials expect to spray the pesticide periodically over the next three years.
The pesticide is manufactured by Bend, Ore.-based Suterra LLC. It is approved by the Environmental Protection Agency. It has the endorsement of several independent chemists.
Yet, because its use has been limited to sparsely populated areas, both residents and researchers have raised concerns about its potential long-term effects on humans.
Santa Cruz resident Lily Hudson kept her three children, 2, 5 and 7, home from school Friday; for fear that pesticide residue could make them sick.
According to Santa Cruz County Superintendent Alan Pagano, schools across the county were not taking chances. Playgrounds and other public areas were scrubbed before school and children were advised to wash their hands after play periods.
Meanwhile the county of Santa Cruz along with the city and a non-profit environmental group in Carmel, have filed suits against the state. They claim that the pesticide's potential health effects have not been sufficiently studied. In all three suits Judges opted to hear the cases in coming months.
"People are so upset, and I don't blame them," says Santa Cruz Mayor Emily Reilly, who says the city will continue to its legal fight against the state. "To someone like myself who is committed to protecting health and safety, this is shameful."