GUATEMALA CITY – For most of three decades, the U.S. has financed massive aerial spraying of pesticides over a large part of Guatemala in an attempt to eradicate the Mediterranean fruit fly, but common precautions to limit exposure to the toxic chemicals are not being followed.

In the 1980s and 1990s, malathion was sprayed from aircraft over thousands of acres of Guatemala’s forests and farmlands. More recently the U.S.-financed program has been spraying Spinosad GF 120 Naturalyte Fruit Fly Bait, produced by Dow Agrosciences.

According to Guatemalan government data, the U.S.-backed program has applied more than 6 million liters of GF-120 since 2002, equivalent to more than 5,000 tons of this pesticide-bait.

Dow scientists say that Spinosad is highly toxic to beneficial insects and aquatic species, and that precautions should be taken to avoid daytime spraying and avoid bodies of water.

However, in Guatemala, spraying occurs during the day and over water. In contrast, in California, which is also waging an ongoing battle with medflies, the use of Spinosad sprays to control the pests is carefully regulated, and residents and farm workers are warned prior to spraying to keep out of sprayed zones for at least four hours.