The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has filed a complaint alleging that Syngenta Seeds, LLC violated federal pesticide regulations meant to protect agricultural workers at its crop research farm in Kekaha, Kauai. The EPA is seeking civil penalties of over $4.8 million for the violations.
On January 20, 2016, 19 workers entered a Syngenta field that had been recently sprayed with a restricted use organophosphate insecticide. Ten of these workers were taken to a nearby hospital for medical treatment immediately following exposure. Restricted use pesticides are not available to the general public because of their high toxicity, potential for harm and impact on the environment, but they are allowed, with limitations, on agricultural fields.
“Reducing pesticide exposure is a high priority, as it directly affects the health of farmworkers,” said Alexis Strauss, EPA’s Acting Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “The EPA is committed to enforcing the federal law that protects those who spend long hours in the fields. We appreciate working with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) to respond to this serious incident.”
The company named in the complaint does business as Syngenta Hawaii, LLC., a subsidiary of Syngenta AG, a global enterprise that produces chemicals and seeds. The EPA complaint states that Syngenta misused the pesticide “Lorsban Advanced,” and it failed in its duties to adequately implement the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act’s Worker Protection Standard.
Specifically, the EPA alleges that Syngenta failed to notify its workers to avoid fields recently treated with pesticides. The company then allowed or directed workers to enter the treated field before the required waiting period had passed, and without proper personal protective equipment. After the workers’ exposure, Syngenta failed to provide adequate decontamination supplies onsite and failed to provide prompt transportation for emergency medical attention.
An inspector from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture was present at the Syngenta facility when the exposure incident occurred, prompting the State’s immediate investigation. In March, HDOA referred the matter to the EPA for follow-up investigation and enforcement. In April, EPA inspectors conducted a series of inspections, which led to the complaint.
The active ingredient in “Lorsban Advanced” is chlorpyrifos, which in small amounts may cause a runny nose, tears, sweating or headache, nausea and dizziness. More serious exposures can cause vomiting, muscle twitching, tremors and weakness. Sometimes people develop diarrhea or blurred vision. In severe cases, exposure can lead to unconsciousness, loss of bladder and bowel control, convulsions, difficulty in breathing and paralysis. Symptoms can appear within minutes and may last days or weeks.
This complaint comes as the Kauai County Council hears testimony regarding a proposed repeal of Ordinance 960, which the county passed after a State/County-sponsored Joint Fact Finding (JFF) report did an exhaustive review of existing health and pesticide data. The data gathered during the JFF process indicate that west side residents living and working near chemical testing fields suffer from numerous health conditions at higher rates than residents living anywhere else on Kauai. These health conditions/indicators include: Developmental Delay (3 to 8 year olds), ADHD, Easter Seals Enrollment (age 0 to 3), Infant Mortality, Mothers Pre-Existing Health Conditions, Cancer Mortality, Stroke Mortality, Admissions for Bacterial Pneumonia, COPD or Asthma (elderly), Dialysis Patients (per 1,000) and other disabilities.
However, a ruling handed down by the U.S. Court of Appeals on November 18, 2016, nullified this and several other county ordinances from Maui and Hawaii counties by articulating that Hawaii counties and cities don’t have the authority to regulate genetically engineered crops and pesticide use. The decision was hailed as a victory by the agribusinesses and their allies.