The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency came to an agreement Monday with Syngenta Seeds, LLC, to resolve violations of federal pesticide regulations at its farm in Kekaha.
Under the settlement, Syngenta Seeds, a subsidiary of Syngenta AG, will spend $400,000 on 11 worker protection training sessions for growers in Hawaii, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands.
“Reducing pesticide exposure for the millions of farm workers who cultivate our food is a high priority for EPA,” said Alexis Strauss, EPA’s acting regional administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “This settlement will bring to Hawaii and Pacific Island growers much-needed training to protect agricultural workers.”
Syngenta must develop curriculum and training materials tailored to local growers who face pesticide compliance challenges related to language, literacy, geographic and cultural factors.
Syngenta must also develop compliance kits for use at these trainings and for wider distribution in the agricultural community in English and four other languages commonly spoken by growers and farm workers in the training locations — Mandarin, Korean, Tagalog, and Ilocano.
“Many of the small-scale agricultural growers have trouble understanding some of the legal requirements and some of the labels that are in English,” Strauss said.
Syngenta is also required to make the kits available to the public by posting the materials online for three years after the trainings are complete. Syngenta will pay a civil penalty of $150,000 as part of the settlement.
“We have been working closely with all of our states to ensure that the newer worker protection standards that took affect in 2015 were being vigorously implemented by our state,” Strauss said. “After the Hawaii Department of Ag responded, they asked us to help them on this matter.”
In matters referred by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, EPA found two separate incidents that occurred in January 2016 and January 2017 at its Kekaha farm when Syngenta failed to notify workers verbally and with signage to avoid fields recently treated with pesticides, resulting in exposure and hospitalization of 11 workers.
“Workers were exposed after re-entering a field too soon after it had been sprayed,” Strauss said. “They were exposed to chlorpyryifos.”
“After the first exposure happened, we conducted a number of meetings with community members,” Strauss said. “The community most wanted to see this kind of small grower training; they thought it was an important niche that wasn’t being filled.”
In addition, EPA found Syngenta failed to provide both adequate decontamination supplies on-site and prompt transportation to a medical facility for exposed workers.
“They also wanted to see more training for medical providers,” Strauss said. “In the last year, we have funded some very important training that has been delivered in Hawaii to reach health care workers on how to recognize and treat pesticide poisoning.”
Restricted-use pesticides are not available for use by the general public because of high toxicity and potential to injure applicators and bystanders and to adversely affect the environment.
“I am pleased that the decision called for more training in the use of pesticides,” said Kapaa pediatrician, Dr. Lee Evslin. “Chlorpyrifos was one of the chemicals that the workers were exposed to, and I support The American Academy of Pediatric’s (AAP) opinion on chlorpyrifos.”
Others also worry about how the pesticides are impacting the environment, as well.
Gordon LaBedz, vice chair of the local Surfrider Foundation chapter, said, “The greatest danger is to the farm walkers, for sure, but don’t forget that on the Westside, sometimes there are great clouds of red dust in the air. All that poisonous dust runs off into our streams and ditches to near-shore waters. It poisons our reefs.”
The EPA had recommended a ban on the pesticide in 2016, but the new head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, overrode their recommendation.
In a June 2017 letter to the EPA administrator, AAP along with the Environmental Working Group, stated, “We are deeply alarmed that the EPA’s decision to allow the continued use of chlorpyrifos contradicts the agency’s own science…. The risk to infant and children’s health and development is unambiguous.”