LIHUE — The federal government and the state have taken a step back on the regulation of the restricted-use pesticide chlorpyrifos, but activists on Kauai aren’t giving up.
The last pesticide related measure, SB 804, died when the House Finance Committee chose not to hear it in mid-March. That measure proposed a limited study by the University of Hawaii of the meconium of newborn children to determine the presence of chlorpyrifos.
Similarly, Scott Pruitt, new administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has denied a petition that would ban the use of the insecticide on all U.S. food crops. He cited a lack of scientific evidence as the reason for denying the petition.
Both decisions are moves that the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association supports, said Bennette Misalucha, executive director of Hawaii Crop Improvement Association.
“We remain confident that the EPA is the most appropriate agency to regulate the safe use of pesticides by farmers and the general public,” Misalucha said.
Even though the issue has come to a halt in the Legislature and with the EPA, Gov. David Ige heard about the pesticide in a recent meeting with Kauai’s Jeri Di Pietro and other members of Hawaii SEED.
“We met with the governor and asked him to consider a ban on chlorpyrifos himself,” Di Pietro said. “There’s no bills left, but he could do that.”
Ige’s office did not provide a statement about his position on a chlorpyrifos ban in time for deadline.
Other advocates of pesticide regulation have said they’re disappointed in Kauai’s legislators because they didn’t support efforts to require disclosure by users of restricted use pesticides in Hawaii.
But at least one legislator said she has a good reason for not adding her support to this session’s bills.
“In my opinion, these bills were not needed,” said Rep. Dee Morikawa (D-16, Niihau, Lehua, Koloa, Waimea).
The measures introduced in the session had the potential to hurt small farmers, she said, and were redundant with other requirements that have already been put in place.
“Disclosure is already law through the Good Neighbor program. We haven’t even given the Department (of Agriculture) a chance to accomplish what they’re mandated to do,” Morikawa said. “But people aren’t satisfied. They want action now, today, but we have to be reasonable. The department doesn’t even have the staff to do what they need to accomplish.”
Given time to get enough staff members and a plan together, the Departments of Agriculture and Health will be able to address pesticide buffer zones and use reporting, as well as health concerns associated with the chemicals, she said.
The Legislature is keeping tabs on the two entities.
“After session, the health committee is going to bring in DOH and DOA and find out what they’ve accomplished,” Morikawa said. “We’ll meet again one more time before session to find out what they need and get together appropriate bills to accomplish that.”
Sen. Ron Kouchi, District 8, said while none of the bills made it to the Senate — they were all halted in the House — he is pushing for $750,000 to be injected into the Department of Agriculture budget for surface water and air quality testing.
“Half a million would be to continue surface water testing statewide, and the $250,000 would start some air quality testing,” Kouchi said. “The main thing is to get better information, and I think the $750,000 will get us better information.”
That’s not enough for some community members who have been pushing for years for laws mandating disclosure and buffer zones.
“Rather than act on the side of protecting health and the environment, our Kauai representatives continue to only be concerned with protecting the interests and profits of the chemical companies,” said Gary Hooser, who has been instrumental in promoting restricted-use pesticide disclosure.
Di Pietro thinks it’s the state’s responsibility to protect the health of residents, and that establishing laws will encourage that end.
“It’s an extremely toxic neurotoxin. It sent some of Syngenta’s employees to the hospital and it’s the main cause of what happened with the kids out at Waimea Canyon Middle School,” she said.
In 2013, results from air and water quality study showed the presence of chlorpyrifos and bifenthrin, also a restricted use pesticide, around Waimea Canyon Middle School and some residents say it’s negatively affected the children in the school.
In January 2016, Syngenta workers were hospitalized after being exposed to chlorpyrifos on Kauai, resulting in a $4.8 million lawsuit against the company by the EPA.
Those who oppose restricted use pesticide disclosure and regulation laws say they’d rather see the federal government regulate pesticides and they’re willing to play by those rules.
“The EPA evaluates and registers pesticides based on scientific fact to ensure that they will not harm people, non-target species, or the environment. Only after years of testing and scientific studies does it determine if a pesticide can be sold and used,” Misalucha said.