These are men who, as county workers, presumably have undergone pesticide training and been advised of OSHA regulations. But neither was wearing gloves, masks or any other protection.
The triangle is an area where I regularly see children playing and riding their bikes, people walking their dogs and high school students parking their cars. Yet none of them will have a clue, save perhaps for the lingering odor of pesticides, that the ground where they're walking barefoot, in slippers, or with a pet, has just been dosed with chemicals.
On the other side of the island, where the chemical companies grow their seed crops, the same scenario is also playing out, though with greater regularity. DuPont Pioneer alone has admitted in court documents to spraying its fields on 65% of the days between 2007-12. Besides herbicides like Roundup, it's spraying restricted use pesticides — the gnarliest of the gnarly. And though Pioneer spokeswoman Laurie Yoshida claimed the company hadn't used atrazine “for several years,” court documents show was used in 2012.
DuPont Pioneer most frequently applies a class of herbicides known as chloroacetanilides, which are primarily applied to the soil before or shortly after weed germination to control the growth of weeds. According to court documents, Pioneer used 16,000 pounds of these particular herbicides, including alachlor, a restricted use chemical, in that five year period, along with 20 other insecticides, herbicides and fungicides in quantities ranging from 9,000 to less than 1,000 pounds each.
|Source: Plaintiffs' attorneys Jervis & Smith
Look how close Pioneer's fields are to the sea, highway and Waimea town and river. Can Pioneer honestly say the chemicals it's applying to its sloped, windswept fields are not entering fresh and salt water, much less drifting into homes, yards, schools, shops or even vehicles passing by?
The company also sprays Lorsban Advance. The active ingredient in this organophosphate is chlorpyrifos, which the EPA prohibits from use in outdoor and residential areas where children could be exposed.
And though the state frequently claims this stuff is no cause for alarm, the state's own pesticide training materials warn:
Organophosphates “inhibit a chemical, called cholinesterase, in the nervous system of humans. A large exposure causes acute illness. Smaller exposures cause no apparent problem at first. They inhibit the cholinesterase, but not enough to cause immediate illness. Small, repeated exposures to these pesticides over several days or weeks may greatly reduce cholinesterase levels in the body. At that point, even a small exposure to a pesticide with relatively low cholinesterase-inhibiting properties may trigger severe illness.”
Its training materials also state, emphasis added:
“Scientists, pesticide manufacturers, and the Environmental Protection Agency cannot yet be sure what the delayed effects of too much exposure to individual pesticides or combinations of pesticides may be. It may be years before there are clear answers on the effects of all the pesticides and combinations of pesticides in use today.
Meanwhile. it makes good sense to reduce your exposure to all pesticides as much as possible.”
But how can one do this if one is not informed, be it by the government or a chemical seed company, that an area has been or is about to be sprayed?
People have a right to know so they can take steps to limit their exposure if they so choose.
Bill 2491, which has its public hearing next Wednesday afternoon at the Kauai Veterans Center, seeks to require the main consumers of restricted use pesticides to disclose details on what, where and when they're spraying this stuff.
It's not a perfect bill, and I wish it addressed the county's use of pesticides, since those chemicals are applied to public parks and roadways where we the people are unwittingly exposed.
But it's a start. And if nothing else, it's pushing this community to have a discussion about pesticides that is long overdue.
We need to stop pretending that this stuff is benign, and that it doesn't have singular and cumulative impacts on both human and environmental health.