Health fears over pine spray

Attica’s pines will be sprayed with special insecticides later this month as part of a government scheme aimed at ridding the trees of a lethal sap-sucking insect, but the measure has prompted criticism from environmentalists worried that pumping chemicals into the atmosphere will damage public health. According to the Agriculture Ministry, seven low-toxicity insecticides have been prepared for use by municipal authorities in public areas and even in private gardens where pine trees have been afflicted by the Marchalina hellenica. A similar scheme due to be implemented last year was terminated in September after experts deemed that the pesticides being used could have a negative impact on «ecological processes.» This year’s scheme comes more than a decade after authorities intentionally introduced the insect to the country’s pine forests in a bid to boost honey production. The insect causes trees to wither by draining them of their sap, secreting a white fluff in the process that is an important source of food for bees. But the new scheme has prompted objections from environmentalists concerned about its impact on public health. «Such substances are not for use in urban areas as they can have a harmful effect on fauna and have been linked to cancer and other illnesses,» said entomologist Panos Petrakis of the National Agricultural Research Foundation. The plan has also been criticized by municipal authorities, who say they have inadequate funds or staff to carry out the spraying. But fears of environmental repercussions appear to have been appeased. «We had reservations about the use of insecticides but the fact (the proposed substances) have been approved by the Health Ministry reassured us,» said Kifissia Mayor Nikos Hiotakis.