Report reveals discrepancies in spraying incident

New details have surfaced within the Department of Agriculture’s 1,500-page report on whether herbicide applied by GMO-giant Syngenta was the reason behind student and teacher illnesses at Waimea Canyon Elementary School.

The DOA released a four-page summary of the findings in mid-January related to a November complaint filed by teachers, which cited cleome gynandra — dubbed wild spider flower — as the cause of a pungent odor that caused flu-like symptoms in students and teachers, causing several to go home ill.

The summary also stated that Syngenta Seeds Inc. applied herbicides correctly near the school, ruling out the chemical HiTech as the source for the adverse reactions.

Though administrators deemed students sick enough on Nov. 14 to call officials and bring in the Kaua‘i Police Department, a hazardous-materials team, firefighters and the state DOA to investigate, Principal Glenda Miyazaki could not confirm the number of students who went home that day.

Several of the students, some of whom fainted, could be seen covering their noses with their T-shirts while heading down the hallways as officials took samples to find the cause of the symptoms.

“There has to be a (distinction between) how many came to the health room and how many went home. Just because they came up to health room doesn’t mean the child went home,” Miyazaki had said, noting the amount “wasn’t more than 10.”

However, according to the complete DOA report recently obtained by The Garden Island through a Freedom of Information Act request, 60 students went to the health room with complaints of nausea, headache, stomachache, dizziness, watery eyes and vomit that day. Some 34 of those students went home, the report states.

The report also states that students that went to the health room that day complained of a “chemical” smell.

Though it has an unpleasant odor, cleome gynandra has traditionally been used for the treatment of rheumatic and other inflammatory conditions, according to the Journal of Medicinal Food.

The Garden Island is awaiting the findings from a second Freedom of Information Act request related to a second complaint alleging that Syngenta Seeds Inc. sprayed herbicide on Jan. 23 on the field near the school while faculty was present.

In the complaint is evidence that the company sprayed chemicals that became airborne, Tom Perry, director of the Hawai‘i State Teachers Association on Kaua‘i, said, which is not in compliance with Environmental Protection Agency standards.

Perry met on Feb. 8 with school administrators and representatives from the company to create a “spraying protocol.”

The protocol includes stopping spraying immediately if teachers or students complain of illness when Syngenta is spraying.

While the EPA allows use of the herbicide, it is a violation of federal law to apply it inconsistently with its instructions.

Labeling on Touchdown HiTECH specifically states that the product should not be applied in “a way that will contact workers or other persons, either directly or through drift.”

• Amanda C. Gregg, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or agregg@kauaipubco.com.

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