HONOLULU (CN) – Hawaii lawmakers advanced legislation Monday that revives efforts to restrict pesticide spraying on the island of Kauai, after a federal appeals court struck down county restrictions last year.
The state Senate Committee on Agriculture and the Environment passed three measures including SB778, which provides $3 million to implement findings of the Kauai Joint Fact Finding Study Group.
The fact-finding group, a holdover from the Kauai County act, recommends establishing buffer zones, requiring mandatory disclosure of pesticide use by agribusiness and setting up various monitoring programs, among other things.
The Senate committee also advanced SB779, which expands a pesticide advisory committee, and SB804, which creates a revolving pesticide fund.
Kauai became a flash point for opposition to agribusiness practices across the state in 2013, when the Kauai County Council enacted no-spray buffer zones around schools after the Waimea Canyon Middle School was twice evacuated and about 60 students hospitalized with flu-like symptoms in 2006 and 2008.
But the Ninth Circuit found – over vigorous arguments made by proponents of the bans – that county Ordinance 960 was impliedly preempted by state pesticides laws. The court also struck down similar bans on the Big Island and Maui as preempted by existing federal laws.
Taking their cue from the courts, activists have pivoted to the state this legislative session. All three measures were introduced by agriculture committee member Mike Gabbard, father of U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, along with an assortment of others from the Board of Agriculture and the state Senate.
Written testimony by the Hawaii Center for Food Safety, the Hawaii Nurses Association, Ohana O Kauai, the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action, Western Plant Health Association, the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, Kauai County Councilmember Mason Chock, and dozens of individuals strongly support the measure.
Testimony by the Board of Agriculture was mixed. Board chair Scott Enright, who along with Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho established the group, opposes expanding membership of the advisory committee on pesticides to include representatives from the Department of Education, county mayor offices, Hawaii Farmer’s Union, a medical expert and private-sector scientist on the grounds they “have no expertise in pesticide use.”
The department website notes that data collected by the fact-finding group “does not show a causal relationship between pesticide use by seed companies and health problems found on Kauai,” or harm to the island’s flora and fauna. The website also dismisses inaccurate rumors circulated largely on social media.
The Joint Fact Finding Study Group itself laments the unavailability of certain information including exposure data or scientifically substantiated physical contact with a pesticide and patchy data about lands farmed and pesticides applied, and lack of access to proprietary data of doctors, hospitals and health insurers.
The study does offer a number of telling conclusions: “Seed companies and Kauai Coffee applied 23 different restricted-use pesticide (RUP) products containing 16 different active ingredients between December 2013 and July 2015. Over a 20-month period, they used an estimated 18 tons of RUPs in total formulation, which included 7.5 tons of active ingredients. About 75 percent of all RUP sales by volume on Kauai are for non-agricultural uses. Structural fumigators (e.g. termite control companies using primarily vikane gas for tenting) accounted for 41 percent, and water purification using chlorine accounted for about 36 percent of the total RUP sales by weight of product sold. Most of the remaining nearly 25 percent of RUP sales were for seed corn and coffee, the major crops grown by the Good Neighbor Program (GNP) reporting companies.”
Fact Finding Group member and pediatrician Lee Evslin testified at Monday’s hearing that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has begun to quantify findings on pesticide use, including Atrazine which along with metolachlor was detected in levels exceeding EPA standards. Evslin also noted that scientists have become increasingly concerned about low-level, chronic exposure to pesticides, which tend to build up in the human body.
Community members also stepped forward with anecdotal evidence of the scope and effects of spraying on Kauai’s west side.
Kauai Community Radio’s Felicia Cowden recounted sitting on people’s rooftops and seeing the dust from fields blowing right at them, and interviewing cancer widows and women afraid to have babies.
One man reported that doctors found alarming levels of glyphosate, a suspected cancer-causing ingredient in Monsanto’s weed killer Roundup, in his urine.
A nurse reported being stonewalled by the state Department of Health when she tried to report a farmworker who had gone into a coma and other subsequent incidents.
An unidentified Kauai resident stepped forward to testify, shaking, and merely said, “There is no good poison,” before turning and walking out of the meeting.
Opposition to SB778 was registered by the Hawaii Cattleman’s Association as well as Dow Chemical, one of the “Big Six” agribusinesses operating in Hawaii.
“It’s unfortunate that Dow can’t support buffer zones that protect children,” said director of the Hawaii Center for Food Safety, Ashley Lukens after the meeting. “But they’ve shown their colors.”
SB778 passed without amendment and will be sent to the next committee, to be announced.