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10 Syngenta workers taken to hospital

KEKAHA — Ten Syngenta employees were taken to Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital on Wednesday after walking onto a field too soon after it had been sprayed with an agricultural pesticide.

Seven employees were released later that day, while three remained overnight. Six have returned to work and the rest have been cleared to return to work Monday.

Joshua Uyehara, Syngenta Hawaii’s site manager, said there is a 24-hour waiting period before employees enter a field where chlorpyrifos has been applied. It had been about 20 hours when several walked onto the field Wednesday morning to plant some identification tags.

“Unfortunately, some of the workers strayed into a field they were not scheduled to work and they were not supposed to be there,” Uyehara said in a phone interview.

A field supervisor noticed they were there within a few minutes — perhaps 10 or 15 — and the employees were quickly told to leave the area.

Uyehara said Syngenta’s priority was to get the individuals out of the restricted field. They were cleaned up as quickly as possible, offered medical assistance and transported to the hospital in private vehicles.

He said due to privacy laws, he couldn’t describe any symptoms employees may have shown.

Uyehara there were about 30 workers in the vicinity of the restricted corn field Wednesday morning, but not necessarily in the field, before the 24-hour restriction had expired.

Syngenta officials met early Thursday to begin reviewing their procedures and policies to be sure the work environment is safe. Steps will be taken each morning to be sure training procedures are explained, monitored and followed.

“The company takes safety very seriously,” Uyehara said.

Syngenta has about 100 full-time employees.

External investigations are also underway.

Uyehara said a Hawaii Department of Agriculture inspector, who was on the property Wednesday morning, was notified and taken to the site of the incident within about 10 minutes of when it happened.

“It’s not possible for it to happen faster than that,” he said.

He emphasized Syngenta’s first priority was to ensure the safety of its colleagues.

“Everything is under review,” he said.

The Environment Protection Agency is considering a total ban on the use of chlorpyrifos. A comment period ended earlier this month.

Earthjustice, in its Jan. 5 comments on the proposal, wrote: “Chlorpyrifos is a widely used, dangerous pesticide that causes poisonings of workers and bystanders every year and is associated with alarming neurodevelopmental impairments to children exposed during early life stages.”

It wrote that EPA “should also move quickly to cancel all chlorpyrifos uses — even non-food uses — based on the risks posed to workers and bystanders and the serious extent and nature of those risks.”

Uyehara, in an interview with Civil Beat, said the company doesn’t have any plans to discontinue its use of chlorpyrifos.

“As far as we’re concerned, it’s still registered as safe as long as it’s used in accordance with the label,” he told Civil Beat.

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Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or bbuley@thegardenisland.com.

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