EPA opens investigation over pesticide use in Hawaii

HONOLULU — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today it will investigate whether the Hawaii Department of Agriculture and Agribusiness Development Corporation have been violating Title VI of the U.S. Civil Rights Act by engaging in practices that have the effect of discriminating against Native Hawaiians.

Title VI prohibits a recipient of federal funds from acting in a manner that has a disparate impact on the basis of race, color, or national origin, regardless of whether the impact is intentional.

“The External Civil Rights Compliance Office will investigate whether in administering the pesticides program and the leasing and licensing of the state land program the HDOA and/or ADC discriminated on the basis of race and/or national origin against farm workers and residents of West Kauai and Molokai, in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, and EPA’s implementing regulation,” wrote Lilian Dorka, ERCO director, in a letter to Earthjustice representatives.

“We are pleased the EPA has agreed to investigate these practices,” said Earthjustice attorney Paul Achitoff who helped draft the complaint. “The spraying of toxic chemicals on and near Hawaii’s affluent neighborhoods would not be tolerated. It’s not acceptable in these neighborhoods, either. Native Hawaiians deserve much more than the State’s vague assurances and voluntary gestures from pesticide users.”

Community groups The Moms On a Mission Hui and Poʻai Wai Ola/West Kauai Watershed Alliance, represented by Earthjustice, filed a complaint in September 2016 calling on EPA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to launch an investigation into whether the state agencies are violating the civil rights of Native Hawaiians by allowing and encouraging heavy pesticide use near their communities.

“I am a Native Hawaiian mother of two children who have had to be tested for pesticide exposure,” said Malia Chun, member of The MOM Hui, in a Thursday press release. “Both my children tested positive for 32 different pesticides. I come from a community with one of the highest populations of Native Hawaiian and native speakers in the state of Hawaii. We are surrounded by test fields for genetically modified crops that have restricted-use pesticides sprayed on them daily. We need action to protect my community’s health and well being.”

However, the initiation of an investigation of the issues above is not a decision on the merits, Dorka wrote.

“ECRCO is a neutral fact finder and will begin the process of gathering the relevant information, discuss the matter further … and determine next steps utilizing our internal procedures,” she wrote.

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