State taking right approach toward pesticides

Recently, the news on Kauai and Oahu was heavily oriented toward pesticide information. Two prominent stories included:

1. The state officially responded to the recommendations from different sources including Kauai’s Joint Fact Finding Task Force (JFF).

2. The EPA announced a $4.8 million penalty for violations of the label in regards to an incident on Kauai involving Syngenta, 35 workers, and the pesticide chlorpyrifos.

The good news is that the state, with agreement from the crop protection agencies, plans to put in place the following initiatives:

1. The Kauai good neighbor policy will expand to the entire state. This will include monthly website reporting on pesticide usage, notice of planned spraying given to residents who live within a 1,000 feet of spraying, and the establishment of a 100-foot buffer zone around all spraying operations.

2. A deputy attorney general and five new investigators are being added to work on pesticide investigations.

3. Surface water on Kauai and Oahu will be tested for pesticides over a two-year period.

4. The DOA will require annual medical testing and yearly training for those who apply pesticides.

5. The DOA will expand the department’s pesticide advisory committee.

6. There will be creation of a coordinated rapid response team to handle pesticide incidents. Exercises are planned for all counties with simulations to include a possible school exposure.

7. Education and outreach programs will be offered to healthcare professionals to help with recognition and management of pesticide incidents.

8. Pesticide user fees are being tripled to help pay for the above initiatives.

I am pleased that the state is taking these actions and that the crop protection industries are supporting the plans. I am disappointed that the testing of air, soil, dust and biologic markers are not part of the package but overall, I do think it is a good step forward and hopefully a win for all parties.

The Syngenta case represents the finding by the EPA that there were 261 violations of the label in the use of chlorpyrifos in this one incident involving 35 workers. Syngenta does have the opportunity to respond to these findings.

I have no opinion on the actual incident but the case does heighten the awareness of federal concern about the toxicity of these chemicals. The federal agencies are being increasingly strict about enforcing the rules concerning worker safety but they have mostly left the issue of buffer zones around schools and other fragile environments to the states and counties to regulate.

These chemicals are universally acknowledged as toxic and Hawaii schools are somewhat unique with their banks of open windows. Children and teachers spending long hours in these classrooms need to be protected.

Prior to 2008, Waimea Canyon School had regular spraying by large machines approximately 60 feet from an open bank of windows. This had gone on for years and was perfectly legal. There were three incidents of possible toxic exposures to children between 2006 and 2008. After the 2008 incident, Syngenta pulled their operations back from the entire field close to the school and all incidents stopped. We may never know what actually caused those illnesses but the increasing awareness of the toxicity of these chemicals must make all of us increasingly concerned about the need for proper buffer zones.

The new good neighbor policy will call for 100-foot buffers but that is not enough for vulnerable places like schools. California is moving toward quarter-mile buffers around its schools. This issue will come up again in this year’s state legislative session.

It is now very clear that in Hawaii, these rules legally are the responsibility of the state (not the county) and the state needs to do what is right. California has led the country in examining the science behind buffer zones and we need to follow their lead.

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Dr. Lee Evslin is a retired physician. He has lived and practiced on Kauai since 1979. He also served as the CEO of Kauai Medical Clinic and Wilcox Hospital. He will be providing a regular column for TGI. His goal will be to present new ideas on health-related issues.

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