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Pesticides & birth defects: Who do you believe?

Should pregnant women who live and/or work around high levels of pesticide use, particularly on Kauai’s Westside, be concerned about birth defects?

A Honolulu law firm has recently been running radio advertisements on Kauai and Maui, stating:

“If you worked on a farm or lived close to the fields where pesticides were sprayed while you were pregnant, and your child was born with a birth defect…then your child may be entitled to significant compensation. Call 1-866-998-TOXIC (6942.)”

Several physicians at Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital, located on Kauai’s Westside, believe there may be up to “10 times the national rate” of certain rare heart defects in newborns. READ ACTUAL EMAIL FROM PHYSICIAN (name redacted to protect their privacy):

The agrochemical companies that use, manufacture and sell pesticides will tell you there is no evidence of a higher incidence of birth defects on Kauai or anywhere in Hawaii.

The companies, of course, have a vested interest in ensuring their profits and protecting themselves from lawsuits. The law firm, if successful in their lawsuits, also gains financial benefit. And the physicians acknowledge they have not conducted long term peer reviewed studies.

So, whom do you believe?

The State Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health, also state that there is no evidence of increased incidence of birth defects on Kauai.

However, the SDOA has no expertise dealing with complex health issues and neither agency has conducted any comprehensive studies regarding pesticides and birth defects in Hawaii.

Whenever SDOH testing is conducted, they always find evidence of pesticide drift.

When the SDOH tested streams on Kauai, they found atrazine and glyphosate. (1) When they tested the air at Waimea Canyon Middle School, they found chlorpyrifos, (2) a Restricted Use Pesticide and known neurotoxin. The amounts found are small but they should not be there at all. There is no consistent or comprehensive testing and the chronic health impacts have not been studied.

The SDOH maintains a “Birth Defect Registry.” The report presently posted online has not been updated since 2005. The SDOH is in the process of updating this data.(3)

Multiple sources confirm a strong association between pesticide exposure and birth defects. (4)

The United States Environmental Protection Agency: “Exposure to a variety of pesticides have been linked to increased risk of birth defects.”

American Pregnancy Association: “If you discover you are pregnant and you live near an agricultural area where pesticides are being used, it is advised you remove yourself to avoid exposure to these chemicals.” (5)

National Institute of Health: “A significant association was found between the season of elevated agrochemicals and birth defects.” (6)

American Academy of Pediatrics: “Chronic toxicity end points identified in epidemiologic studies include adverse birth outcomes including preterm birth, low birth weight, and congenital anomalies, pediatric cancers, neuro- behavioral and cognitive deficits, and asthma.” (7)

International news sources have reported on the concerns of local physicians who believe the rate of birth defects is higher than normal on Kauai. (8)

The May 25, 2016 State/County Joint Fact Finding Group concluded: “there is simply not enough information to definitively conclude if its (pesticides) use by the seed companies plays any adverse role in the health of Kauai’s residents or environment.” (9)

The report recommends increased testing, studies, buffer zones and other common-sense measures, which the governor, the legislature the Department of Health and the Department of Agriculture have largely ignored.

In Hawaii, those who apply Restricted Use Pesticides in fields near communities, parks, schools and roadways, are not required to disclose which pesticides they are applying, the location, date, or time in which they are applied, thus making it impossible for any individual to make a truly informed decision.

My intention is not to instill fear, but to shed light on an important matter of public health. If you are pregnant, or considering becoming pregnant, and you live and/or work around areas with heavy pesticide use, you should consult a medical professional you trust, read the available literature, review the limited local data that is available and come to your own personal conclusions.


1. DOH Stream Study:

2. DOH Waimea Canyon School Study:

3. DOH Statewide Pesticide Survey

4. Environmental Protection Agency

5. American Pregnancy Association

Pesticides and Pregnancy

6. National Institute of Health

7. American Academy of Pediatrics

8. International news about birth defects and pesticides in Hawaii

9. Joint Fact-Finding Study


Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.