Dr. Tyrone Hayes, Professor of Integrative Biology, will kick off a state-wide speaking tour May 15 at the Baldwin High School Auditorium. His talk, titled “Silencing the Independent Scientist,” are part of Hawaii SEED’s Raise Awareness Inspire Change speaker series. The University of California Berkeley Professor is best known for his research of Swiss firm Syngenta’s herbicide atrazine, an endocrine disruptor that can transform male frogs into fully functioning reproductive females. Hayes is also an advocate for critical review and regulation of pesticides and other chemicals that may cause adverse health effects.
“[Atrazine] poses a particular threat in Hawaii because of the islands’ geography,” according to Joy Shih, a doctoral candidate at the University of Hawaii’s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology. Shih believes the use of atrazine should be banned. “I think of Hawaii as one giant watershed. There is no inland, from the tops of the mountains, everything flows into the ocean. So anything that you apply that is water soluble ends up in the ocean. Fish are definitely affected and coral is affected.”
Shih added that studies show that atrazine causes coral bleaching and harms phytoplankton, which rest at the bottom of the aquatic food chain. Atrazine is used in sugarcane, pineapple and corn production in Hawaii. According to Pesticide Action Network, there are many viable ways of producing corn and growing food without relying on atrazine.
Syngenta has contested Hayes’ findings. But his research was used as the basis for the settlement of a multimillion-dollar class action lawsuit against the company, according to Hawaii SEED, a nonprofit organization and coalition of grassroots groups, farmers activists and community working to educate the public about the risks of genetically engineered organisms.
“Science has been fighting an uphill battle against giant pesticide manufacturers like Syngenta who claim that a little weed killer in your drinking water won’t hurt you,” said the lead plaintiff’s lawyer Stephen M. Tillery. “Independent scientists now believe that even trace amounts can harm you and your children for generations to come.”
Hayes has presented hundreds of papers, talks and seminars on the role of environmental chemical contaminants in global amphibian declines and in the health disparities that occur in minority and low-income populations. “We are thrilled to be hosting Dr. Hayes in Hawaii for a five island speaking tour, especially on the heels of the recent New Yorker Magazine expose vindicating his claims that for the last fifteen years chemical giant Syngenta has waged a campaign to discredit him and his peer-reviewed findings,” said Hawaii SEED President Jeri Di Pietro. “In light of Syngenta’s current litigation against the County of Kauai and their aggressive campaign to discredit Dr. Hayes, obvious parallel lines can be drawn about the threat to the independent research community and communities protecting their environment.”
Hayes will be joined by local food advocates from each island community. Paul Towers from Pesticide Action Network will be speaking as well, presenting an overview of pesticide use nationally and internationally and the significant role that Hawaii plays as ground zero for open-air pesticide experimentation.
Hayes will also speak on Molokai on May 16; Haleiwa on May 17; Honolulu on May 18; Hilo on May 19; Kona on May 20; and Kauai on May 21.
Photo of Maui pineapple field in 2006: Wikimedia Commons