Checkmate® is a pheromone-based insecticide made by the company Suterra®. It is used to impair the breeding cycle of the light brown apple moth. In 2007, Checkmate® came to the attention of many, especially those who live in the San Francisco Bay Area, when some of these moths, which are native to Australia and New Zealand, were found in agricultural areas. In response, the California government declared that presence of the moth could potentially damage fruit crops significantly and proposed aerial spraying of Checkmate® in order to eradicate the problem. Despite protests, spraying in Santa Cruz County did occur, and unfortunately resulted in numerous illnesses and skin conditions being reported because of it.
Since the aerial spraying of Checkmate® resulted in numerous complaints, it raised the level of concern about aerial spraying in general, and particularly continued spraying of this pesticide. Those who advocate for more natural based ways of removing pests have been very concerned about the negative effects on the environment and on people caused by Checkmate®. The ingredients include ammonium and sodium phosphates, polyvinyl alcohol, and benzisothiozolin. The phosphates for instance are known skin and eye irritants, and polyvinyl alcohol is considered carcinogenic. Benzisothiozolin has not received much study, but what little study does exist suggests that this substance may kill certain types of algae and invertebrate marine animals. Another ingredient, butylated hydroxytoluene, has been linked to asthma symptoms and to cancer.
Due to illness caused by the first aerial spraying of Checkmate®, response to continued spraying has been repeatedly requested, and state Senators like Carole Migden have sponsored bills recommending a temporary moratorium on spraying until more studies can be conducted. The presence of the light brown apple moth in California was treated as an agricultural state of emergency, even though there is evidence that damage to crops may not be as significant as was previously suggested. In fact, in areas where the moth proliferates, such as in Australia, farmers claim some crop damage, but not the decimation of crops that would require an emergency response. Aside from some potentially slight damage to crops, the moth poses no problems for humans, and Australia’s farm industry is robust.
There are also concerns voiced by the growing number of organic farmers. When aerial spray of products like Checkmate® is applied,they may no longer be able to claim that their produce is organic. This can significantly harm the organic industry, which makes additional profits by farming in organic fashion.
The main concern though, comes from people who feel their health was or could be significantly affected by spraying Checkmate®, especially since there has been no large scale testing of the product and because the manufacturer admits that large amounts might be a danger to the elderly, children and people with chronic illness. After the spraying in Santa Cruz, about 600 people were treated for respiratory symptoms, and skin and eye irritation. While spraying may be halted temporarily, if the aerial spray program is allowed to continue, it would spray the pesticide over several Bay Area Counties for a five-year period, in an effort to eradicate the light brown apple moth. Many claim that such a program is unjustified given the lack of available research on the effects of these chemicals on human health and the environment.