HONOLULU — With today’s opening of the 2017 Hawaii State Legislative session, some on Kauai are redirecting the spotlight to restricted use pesticides.
But the agribusiness industry is waiting for the opening of the session to take up the issue.
“HCIA (Hawaii Crop Improvement Association) will review and comment on agricultural-related legislation once they are officially introduced and we look forward to working with state lawmakers, the State Department of Agriculture and the community during the session,” said HCIA executive director Bennette Misalucha.
Advocates are gearing up with a goal of establishing statewide pesticide regulations.
“In the next legislative session, we are hoping to see the state step up to its responsibility to protect citizens and the environment from the impacts of pesticides,” said Fern Rosenstiel, an advocate for increased pesticide regulations.
Rosenstiel helped advance Kauai’s Bill 2491, which became Ordinance 960 in the county. The ordinance required disclosure of the use of restricted-use pesticides (RUP), buffer zones around sensitive areas like schools and hospitals, and a comprehensive study of health impacts.
The ordinance was invalidated in November in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals when the court decided counties in Hawaii don’t have the authority to regulate RUP usage.
Advocates would like to see Kauai Ordinance 960 passed into state law, requiring buffer zones from and mandatory disclosure of RUPs throughout Hawaii.
“We would like to see the state take its responsibility to regulate pesticides seriously and potentially mandate a complete environmental impact assessment detailing the impacts of large agribusiness research centers on our environment and people,” Rosenstiel said.
Kauai’s representatives and Sen. Ron Kouchi have a standing invitation this session from Jeri Di Pietro, president of Hawaii SEED, to “come on a toxic tour” and become more educated on the situation.
“We need more conversation and relationship building than the three minutes of testimony in Honolulu,” Di Pietro said. “I would like to spend personal time with each of them where we can truly be heard.”
Advocates also point to the January 2016 incident at Syngenta’s Kauai location, where 10 employees went to the hospital after entering a field too soon after it’d been sprayed with the RUP chlorpyrifos.
With the increased attention on RUPs, the state Department of Agriculture commissioned a Joint-Fact Finding group to study health effects. They released their findings in a report in May.
While the group cited a lack of accurate health data, the report did ask for increased monitoring of pesticide residue in the environment.
“Hopefully the ongoing EPA investigation into Syngenta’s pesticide mismanagement on Kauai, the recent announcement from Governor Ige supporting key elements of the Joint Fact Finding Group and the increasing weight of scientific research showing the harm these chemicals cause will motivate our local Kauai state legislators to do the right thing,” said Gary Hooser, an advocate for increased pesticide regulation.
Mandatory disclosure and pesticide-free buffer zones around schools are “modest requests,” Hooser said, that will help further testing of pesticide drift and residue.
“I think, when our common goals are weighed against health, environment, and economic gain, perhaps perceptions will change,” Di Pietro said. “We cannot continue to ignore the moral, ethical and environmental ramifications of the chemical companies’ practices on our island.”