EPA investigating state over pesticides

WAIMEA — The Hawaii Department of Agriculture and its affiliated Agribusiness Development Corp. are being investigated for alleged violations of the Civil Rights Act.

The allegation is that HDOA and ADC “engaged in practices that have the effect of discriminating against Native Hawaiians,” according to an Earthjustice news release, by “facilitating the constant drift of pesticides …into Native Hawaiian communities.”

Earthjustice filed the September 2016 complaint that started the investigation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of Hawaii SEED, Moms on a Mission Hui, and Po’ai Wai Ola/West Kauai Watershed Alliance.

The EPA declined to comment on the ongoing investigation Thursday and representatives from HDOA and ADC did not return requests for comment on the matter before press deadline.

“For over a decade the locations of obscene amounts of spray drift has been centralized in predominately Hawaiian communities,” said Jeri Di Pietro, of Hawaii SEED. “It disproportionately targets the lower income neighborhoods. The cruel discrimination is a violation of the Civil Rights Act.”

The specific allegation is that HDOA and ADC violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which 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.

ADC leases thousands of acres near them to heavy pesticide users, primarily genetically engineered seed companies, which spray toxic pesticides each year, according to the Earthjustice release.

“(HDOA) routinely registers pesticides for local use without considering their impacts on Native Hawaiians, has lax enforcement, and fails to enact or support protections such as buffer zones and pesticide disclosure,” the release said.

The action is allegedly harming Native Hawaiians in West Kauai and on Molokai.

“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. “Both my children tested positive for 32 different pesticides. 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.”

In November, the US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it’s the state, not the county, that can regulate restricted use pesticide activity on Kauai after repealing a county law requiring disclosure and buffer zones.

Former councilman Gary Hooser, who was instrumental in passing the Kauai law, said he’s pleased to see others take action since the county has no jurisdiction over the issue.

“Given the court’s decision that the county lacks legal authority and the lack of backbone by state legislators to stand up to large chemical companies, I am pleased to see the EPA and Earthjustice stepping up to hold them accountable,” he said.

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