Hawaii Must Protect Residents From Pesticide Drift

County council members throughout the islands say it’s now the state’s kuleana to act after a federal appeals court rejected local regulation efforts.

Editor’s Note: This Community Voice was co-authored by 10 council members from Maui, Kauai and Hawaii Island. All the authors are listed at the end.

As individual county council members from across the islands, we feel it’s important to publicly call for state action to protect Hawaii’s residents and natural environment from unreasonable exposure to pesticide drift.

Many of our most vulnerable populations (children, elderly) do not have a choice but to live and work in close proximity to areas where large amounts of highly toxic “Restricted use pesticides” (RUPs) are sprayed in open air field trials.

Our counties and our residents have worked hard to pass ordinances aimed at addressing the health and environmental risks of industrial agriculture and pesticide drift. Thousands of residents have marched to call for action.

The recent 9th U.S. Circuit Court decision has made it clear that this is now the kuleana of the state, and that the counties are powerless. So now, the state must act.

County-level efforts to regulate genetically engineered crops and pesticides would be unnecessary, if state lawmakers were to set a statewide standard.Zeynel Cebeci/Wikimedia Commons

The scientific and medical evidence of the dangers to human health from pesticides is staggering. The American Academy of Pediatrics published a major report in 2012 that comprehensively reviewed 195 medical studies on pesticides and found links to long-term health effects including cancer, decreased cognitive function, behavior problems, birth defects, and asthma. The AAP Report recommended buffer zones as a way to protect children’s health.

At least 27 schools in Hawaii are within 1 mile of open agrochemical research fields where large amounts of RUPs are sprayed. At Waimea Middle School on Kauai, air sampling has consistently detected the RUP Chlorpyrifos. Public records revealed that approximately 2,000 pounds of Chlorpyrifos was used on Kauai in 2015 alone. This is a toxin which the EPA has started the process of banning for agricultural use, and which caused the hospitalization of at least 10 farmworkers on Kauai last year. It is unacceptable that we are not being more proactive to protect our children from this type of exposure.

In addition, the state and County of Kauai funded a 15-month Joint Fact-Finding Study Group (JFFG) which reviewed scientific literature and interviewed hundreds of community advocates (including agrochemical industry representatives). One of the most important findings from the JFFG Final Report is that the state does not collect the necessary data on resident health, soil or water sampling to understand the impacts of this type of pesticide use on Hawaii’s people and environment.

With the newly-appointed hostile leadership of the EPA, the federal government cannot be counted on to protect our environment as it once was charged to do. Our State lawmakers should wait no longer to take long overdue action to reduce pesticide exposure, and implement the Recommendations of the State and County-funded JFFG Report:

1) Statewide buffer zone policy

2) Statewide mandatory and thorough pesticide use disclosure and notification

3) Comprehensive health and environmental testing in impacted communities

This can be done without burdening small farmers or food producers, because most food farmers do not use high levels of RUPs.

There are several bills in the state House and Senate this session that deserve wide support.

The people of Hawaii have the right to decide whether to expose themselves to the risks of toxic pesticides in industrial agriculture, and to take action to prevent their impacts. With the recent federal court decisions, it is clear that this responsibility now lies with the state.

As county council members, it is our duty to protect the health and welfare of our communities. We take this responsibility with great seriousness, and respectfully urge our State policymakers to take action now to implement the Recommendations of the JFFG Report.

Signed (as individual council members):

Alika Atay (Maui)

Mason Chock (Kauai)

Elle Cochran (Maui)

Maile David (Hawaii)

Karen Eoff (Hawaii)

Don Guzman (Maui)

Kelly King (Maui)

Eileen O’Hara (Hawaii)

Jeniffer Ruggles (Hawaii)

Valerie Poindexter (Hawaii)

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