KEKAHA — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is suing Syngenta Seeds over an incident early this year on Kauai.
The EPA is seeking civil penalties of more than $4.8 million for the alleged federal pesticide regulation violations at the Syngenta crop research farm in Kekaha on Jan. 20.
That’s when 19 workers entered a Syngenta field recently sprayed with a restricted use insecticide. Ten of the workers were taken to the hospital for medical treatment.
“Syngenta has been working with the EPA for a number of months to resolve allegations related to a worker re-entry incident at a Syngenta farm in Kauai,” said spokesman Paul Minehart in a statement sent to TGI. “Syngenta has taken responsibility in this matter. No workers were injured in the incident.”
An inspector from Hawaii Department of Agriculture was on site at the time of the incident, and that’s what prompted the state’s immediate investigation into the event. In March, HDOA referred the matter to EPA for follow-up. In April, the EPA conducted a series of investigations that led to the filing of the complaint.
“Syngenta believes EPA is not characterizing the matter accurately,” Minehart said. “Syngenta believes EPA is overreaching its authority with this enforcement, lacking precedent and disregarding its own policies and regulations.”
Agriculture worker safety is a top priority for Syngenta and safe training has been an integral part of the company’s business worldwide, Minehart said.
He highlighted the company’s commitment to “help people stay safe by training 20 million farm workers on labor safety” in the Good Growth Plan, which is one of six commitments identified by the company in 2013.
“To achieve this objective, which is independently audited, Syngenta developed new guidelines and tools in six languages,” Minehart said. “Training programs raise awareness of hazards, principally those related to crop protection products, and show how to manage and prevent them.”
The EPA states that Syngenta misused the pesticide Lorsban Advance and it has failed to adequately implement the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act Worker Protection Standard.
“Reducing pesticide exposure is a high priority, as it directly affects the health of farm workers,” said Alexis Strauss, EPA’s Acting Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “EPA is committed to enforcing the federal law that protects those who spend long hours in the fields. We appreciate working with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture to respond to this serious incident.”
Specifically, EPA alleges Syngenta failed to notify its workers to avoid fields recently treated with pesticides. EPA says the company then allowed or directed workers to enter the treated field before the required waiting period had passed, and without proper personal protective equipment.
After the workers’ exposure, Syngenta allegedly failed to provide adequate decontamination supplies on-site and failed to provide prompt transportation for emergency medical attention.
The active ingredient in Lorsban Advanced is chlorpyrifos, which in small amounts may cause a runny nose, tears, sweating, headache, nausea and dizziness, according to EPA.
More serious exposures can cause vomiting, muscle twitching, tremors and weakness. Sometimes people develop diarrhea or blurred vision. In severe cases, exposure can lead to unconsciousness, loss of bladder and bowel control, convulsions, difficulty in breathing and paralysis. Symptoms can appear within minutes and may last days or weeks.
Now that the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that pesticide regulation is within the purview of the state and the federal government, Carl Berg, Kauai ecologist and head of the Kauai Surfrider Blue Water Task Force, said he’s interested to see how the issue plays out.
“Finally the federal government is taking steps to protect the community on Kauai where the county and state have failed to do so,” Berg said.
The case is still open with the EPA and Syngenta has 30 days to respond. After the 30-day period, an EPA administrative law judge is assigned to the case.