Late yesterday, a group of island residents, PAN and Surfrider -- represented by the legal muscle of Earthjustice and Center for Food Safety -- joined efforts to defend Kaua'i from a lawsuit brought by four of the world's largest pesticide corporations.
Over the summer, Kaua'i County passed a law to provide local communities with more information about the pesticides being applied on the island, particularly test fields for genetically engineered (GE) seeds. The effort -- spearheaded by a diverse coalition of mothers, teachers and farmers -- focused on understanding which chemicals are regularly being used on fields next to places where children live, learn and play. This new law was hard-fought, as corporations ran an aggressive public relations campaign against the effort. And the corporate bullying continues.
Pesticide corporations vs. the people
In January, three corporations -- Dow, DuPont Pioneer and Syngenta -- filed a lawsuit against Kaua'i County in an attempt to overturn the newly-passed law. BASF later joined the suit.
And in just the past few weeks, pesticide corporations -- and their front groups like the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association -- have tried repeatedly to sneak bills through the state legislature. These state bills, the so-called "Hawaii Monsanto Protection Acts," would undermine local rights. To date, shining a spotlight on these corporations' tactics has generated enough opposition to keep the legislation in committee.
PAN supported Kauai's new law before it passed and we are joining efforts to ensure it remains intact. And we're proud to stand with the people most affected by pesticide drift, including the Ka Makani Ho'opono hui (The Wind That Makes Right Association).
Residents across Kaua'i strongly support the new law, and see direct impacts of pesticide exposure in their families and communities. Cindy Elliott, a resident of Lihue who lives next to DuPont Pioneer's fields with her husband Robert, and member of the hui, shared her perspective:
We started researching pesticides on Kaua'i and both became very disturbed at what we found. We measured a distance of approximately 150 feet from our property to the corn being sprayed. My husband had been troubled with a respiratory problem and skin rashes several months before we found out they were spraying. He has never in his life had any respiratory problems. I developed a cough... and when they sprayed I coughed more and developed a headache with dizziness.
The story sounds a lot like those from people across the U.S., particularly in the Midwest corn belt, who live and work next to fields where pesticides are applied.
Brain toxins in the air
Kaua'i residents like Cindy and Robert Elliott have a right to be concerned. Many of the pesticides applied to the GE test fields in Kaua'i, and likely throughout the state, are known to be hazardous to health. And protective rules are lagging behind scientific research.
In a new scientific review from researchers at Mount Sinai and Harvard School of Public Health, the insecticide chlorpyrifos is called out for its harms to children's developing brains. These include links to learning disabilities like ADHD and autism, as well as falling IQs. As PAN's Staff Scientist Emily Marquez noted:
Applications of chlorpyrifos to (genetically engineered) test fields on Kaua'i and elsewhere pose an unacceptable risk to the health of children and others living or working nearby. On Kaua'i, chlorpyrifos was found in air samples collected at Waimea Canyon Middle School, as reported in a March 2013 report by the University of Hawai'i. And voluntary industry reporting -- through the Agricultural Good Neighbor Program -- tells us that chlorpyrifos is being used by Syngenta, BASF Plant Sciences, and DuPont Pioneer on GE test fields across the island.
As a parent of a young child, it's clear to me that parents -- including those on Kaua'i -- should have the information about what is being used in fields near their children. And these kids should have modest protections, like no-spray buffer zones, around schools and homes. I remain hopeful that the court in Honolulu will see it the same way.
Photo credit: Fern Rosentiel.