By Maggie Sergio,
On July 31, 2013, there will be a public hearing on the island of Kauai that has no precedent. This hearing comes a month after the first reading of Draft Bill 2491 on June 26th of this year. Since the introduction of this pesticide safety bill, the Garden Island of Kauai has found itself in the spotlight, bringing the issue of "the right to know" and chemical trespass to worldwide attention.
Background on this environmental and social justice issue can be found in my earlier article, Pesticide & GMO Experiments in Hawaii: The Poisoning of Paradise
In recent weeks, campaigns by both sides of this issue have intensified. The local grassroots movement on Kauai, working towards full disclosure and regulation of clandestine pesticide use, is effectively using social media to share information and ideas. Since I returned home from Kauai a little over a month ago, it has been inspiring to see how this platform is being used to collaborate on how to best support the community of Waimea, Kauai and the GMO field workers who are exposed to a multitude of powerful, restricted use pesticides every day.
It has been interesting to witness the GMO industry in Hawaii embark on a marketing campaign. Not soon after I left Kauai, a print ad campaign began by Syngenta, one of the GMO companies that routinely conducts open air field tests of experimental pesticides and GMOs. Full-page color ads in the Garden Island newspaper touted the wonders of their pesticide Atrazine, which has been found in the water at Waimea Canyon Middle School.
I couldn't help but notice this one bit of hypocrisy in their mom-and-pop ad. This statement below comes from a chemical company that applies a significant percentage (but they won't tell how much) of the 18 tons of restricted use pesticides every year, on the Island of Kauai alone. If they cared so deeply about the community and environment... why not disclose what pesticides are being applied?
- "At Syngenta, we care deeply about our communities and our environment. We are very careful with the agricultural products we use. We live, work and send our kids to school on Kaua'i. And we want these islands to remain safe and healthy for them and future generations. " ~-- Syngenta print ad in the Garden Island Newspaper.
This pesticide has been banned by the European Union because of groundwater contamination and has been documented by Dr. Tyrone Hayes to chemically castrate male frogs. Atrazine is undergoing its 3rd U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) review within 10 years and a bill was reintroduced this year to ban Atrazine from the US market.
Kauai Ordinance #2491 is about Public Safety, the Environment and the Right to Know
Draft Bill #2491 was introduced by Kauai County Councilmembers Gary Hooser and Tim Bynum last month. This proposed ordinance makes public health and impacts on the environment the top priority with respect to pesticide usage by the biotech industry. If passed, this ordinance would require that the GMO companies on the Island of Kauai be legally required to fully disclose to the public what pesticides are being sprayed as part of their research activities. It mandates pesticide buffer zones around schools, hospitals and other public areas. This bill also requires that an environmental impact statement (EIS) be completed before any further expansion of the GMO industry on Kauai. An excellent overview of this bill is outlined here by co-sponsor Gary Hooser.
Not surprisingly, the GMO industry is fighting back on any regulations, restraint or public disclosure of what pesticides are being sprayed daily as part of open air field trials and research.
Misinformation and distortion of what this bill represents has spread across Kauai, and rumors are that many of the fieldworkers, hardworking, good people trying to support their families, are fearful for their jobs. This is tragic. The proposed ordinance is not about putting people that work in the fields, often as "Human Scarecrows" out of work and eliminating their jobs. However, I can understand their fears, especially if that message has been conveyed to them by the management of the GMO companies they work for. People I have met on Kauai, that are in support of passing this bill, are deeply concerned about the health and safety of the communities surrounding these GMO farms, and the field workers employed by them. Pesticide poisoning of farm workers is a very real and serious issue, but because it primarily impacts immigrants and other low skilled workers that spend their days in agricultural fields, picking the fruit and vegetables we eat, it doesn't get much attention in the media.
For the public hearing scheduled on July 31 of this year, there are confirmed rumors of the GMO companies telling field workers that if they wear their company t-shirts and show up for the hearing, they will get wages for the day, and lunch will be purchased for them.
The Westside Community of Waimea
As mentioned in my first article, residents of the community of Waimea have filed a lawsuit against Pioneer, a subsidiary of Dupont. Located on the west side of Kauai, Waimea is a small, working class community that is directly across the Waimea River. On the other side of the river are approximately 1000 acres of research test fields operated by Pioneer. Since my first blog post on this issue appeared, I have been moved by the stories of the residents of this rural community. I have been touched by people who have reached out to thank me for telling their story. I can't imagine living every day with fugitive pesticide drift and dust, and waking up in the middle of the night to the sounds of tractors and the smells of mysterious chemicals being applied.
I listened to the words of one father (that did not want to be identified) concerned about the impact to his son, who has been exposed to an undetermined amount of pesticides on a daily basis for the majority of his life. He worries about the pesticide-laden dust that has been invading his home daily since the year 2000. He told me the dust is everywhere; it even gets into the toaster. The simple act of making a piece of toast could be exposing his family to dangerous, restricted use pesticides, many of which have been banned in Europe.
This father shared with me these photos showing how the pesticide-laden dust has invaded his home. The jalousie window shows dust from the nearby fields accumulated on the glass. The second photo shows a paper towel he used to wipe down his glass-top stove. He told me this was about 12 hours of dust accumulation.
Plaintiffs Gather for Update on Lawsuit against Pioneer
On July 13, 2013, lawyers representing the residents of Waimea in a lawsuit against Dupont Pioneer held a public meeting to deliver an update on the case, and to discuss the pesticides that have been disclosed as part of their litigation. It was estimated that approximately 150-200 people were in attendance, and the meeting was open to anyone, and held in the cafeteria at Waimea Canyon Middle School, the very school in which Atrazine was found in water samples taken from a drinking foundation for children.
In addition to Atrazine, a number of other pesticides; BHC, DDT, Bifenthin , Metolachlor and Chlorpyrifos were also detected at Waimea Canyon Middle School.
During the presentation by attorneys Kyle Smith and Gerard Jervis it was revealed that 90 different pesticide formulations, with 63 different active ingredients had been confirmed to be in use by Pioneer on their fields
You can watch the entire presentation made at Waimea Canyon Middle School on YouTube. There are two versions available; a quick 15 minute version with just the highlights is embedded below. The full version, which is about 1 hour and 20 minutes is available on YouTube. Video courtesy of Eric Cannon, videographer.
If you have the time, I recommend watching the longer of the two, and then imagine that you are a parent whose child is in attendance at this school.
The discovery of Chlorpyrifos at Waimea Canyon Middle School...And the threat to children
Of the 90 pesticide formulations and 63 active ingredients that have been revealed as part of the Waimea lawsuit, it is important to call out one of the most dangerous and controversial pesticides found at Waimea Canyon Middle School; the organophosphate, Chlorpyifos.
In 2000, the EPA placed restrictions on the use of Chlorpyrifos. By law, it could not be used in or near people's homes, and exposure to children is illegal. Children are extremely vulnerable to pesticide poisoning because their developing brains are more susceptible to toxins that attack the central and peripheral nervous systems. While the EPA banned Chlorpyrifos for home use, it still allowed for its use in agriculture. As a result of this, children that live in agricultural areas of this country have been documented to suffer from exposure to this organophosphate, as do many farmworkers that pick the fruit and vegetables we eat.
According to the label on this product, the pesticide applicator is required by law to ensure that no pesticide drift occurs. This is exactly what is happening in the town of Waimea. How else could this pesticide show up in air samples taken by the Dept of Agriculture at the school?
In 2007, Pesticide Action Network (PANNA) and National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) formally petitioned the EPA to cancel all registrations and revoke all tolerances for the pesticide Chlorpyrifos.
Since that formal petition, Chlorpyifos has been under review by the EPA, while farm worker advocacy groups such as Farmworker Justice and Farm Worker Pesticide Project have demanded that Chlorpyifos be banned from the US market. Keep in mind that this is just one of six restricted use pesticides found at Waimea Canyon Middle School.
Manipulative Phone Calls from the Hawaii Crop Growers Association Angers Residents of Kauai
Just as I finished this article, another troubling story has developed. Over the last few days, the GMO industry has embarked on an aggressive telephone solicitation campaign that has angered many residents of Kauai because of the manipulative techniques used. In speaking with resident Joanna Wheeler of Kapaa, she mentioned to me that if someone didn't have a good command of English they could easily be fooled into being recorded as being against the passage of bill 2491 when they were actually in support of it.
Social media messages have been disseminated warnings to Kauai residents not to be fooled when asked for permission to be taped if called by the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association (the Trade Group whose members include Monsanto, Dow, Pioneer, Syngenta and BASF).
Angela Flynn, an organic farmer and professional landscaper living in Kilauea, Kauai said she received the following recorded phone survey from the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association:
- "Bill # 2491 will stop farmers' ability to use the latest technology to fight pests, limit the use of seeds, and cost the island of Kauai 500 jobs." - Robo caller message.
In speaking with Puhi resident, Hanakapiai Grosse she told me of a deceptive recorded message she received that never mentioned any of the GMO companies, but said they represented an agricultural company looking to protect the rights of the people of Kauai. She echoed the comments of Joanna Wheeler that if someone who answered the phone didn't speak English very well they could easily be manipulated into recording a message that was against the passage of bill 2491. That message would then be forwarded to Kauai County Council members.
After speaking with Kauai residents about these blatant attempts at deception and manipulation I find myself with a variety of emotions, including sadness, anger, and worry about the direction of our country. I feel disgust at how the GMO industry, disguising themselves as "farmers" engage in manipulation and coercion, in order to influence the legislative process.
That being said, I also find myself inspired, and lifted up by the residents of Kauai and especially by the people of Waimea.
This article is dedicated to all of the courageous people on Kauai that are working to protect their families, their land and the environment. Aloha!