KEKAHA — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is investigating possible Worker Protection Standard violations at Syngenta in connection with the January hospitalization of several workers after entering a field that had been sprayed with chlorpyrifos.
“The safety of our workers is the highest priority at Syngenta,” said Joshua Uyehara, site manager for the company on Wednesday. “We have been working with the appropriate regulators on this matter, and will continue to do so.”
But the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, which conducted their own investigation into the incident, found reason to ask the EPA to dig deeper into the incident.
According to a statement released Tuesday by the EPA, the entity’s enforcement division is responding to the referral and the EPA is “taking this incident very seriously and has been in close communication with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture.”
“As with every open and ongoing enforcement investigation, at this time EPA cannot further elaborate on any details of the investigation, allegations or any enforcement that may result,” the release said.
Paul Achitoff, managing attorney for Earthjustice, said he thinks the incident is worth further investigation.
In a March 10 letter sent by Achitoff to Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for the EPA, he outlined the reasons to further check out the incident. In the letter, he said it is unknown whether Syngenta had directed the employees to enter the field at that time, whether the employees were familiar with the precautions and label requirements related to human hazards, or whether they were wearing the proper protection.
He also pointed out it is unknown the amount, conditions or time of the application of chlorpyrifos, a chemical that was banned for most home use by the EPA in 1991.
In June, the agency proposed to revoke all food residue tolerances for the insecticide because EPA can’t conclude that aggregate exposure to chlorpyrifos won’t cause health problems.
“Hawaii residents, and those in west Kauai community in particular, are not only keenly interested in the well-being of these workers, but have a personal stake in the issue of pesticide exposure,” Achitoff said.
Gary Hooser, Kauai County councilman and president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action, said he thinks Kauai residents are invested in the investigation as well.
“Protecting the health or workers and the community adjacent to the test fields should be our primary concern and I am very pleased to see the federal government becoming involved in this important issue,” Hooser said.