Once again, Hawai‘i has reaffirmed its status as a bastion of sanity in a country turned upside down absent a moral compass. On June 13, Governor David Ige signed SB 3095 into law, making the Aloha State the first in the nation to ban pesticides containing chlorpyrifos.
Chlorpyrifos should have been banned from food crops years ago. In 2015, back when the Environmental Protection Agency valued science, the EPA proposed a rule to eliminate the tolerance of any amount of the pesticide on produce. It stated, “At this time, the agency is unable to conclude that the risk from aggregate exposure from the use of chlorpyrifos meets the safety standard.”
This would have been the latest in a string of increasing regulations on the pesticide to emerge after more was learned about its effects. In 2000, it was phased out of residential use. In 2012, no-spray buffer zones ranging from 25-150 feet were established, depending on whether the application was via ground or aerial spraying.
But then, in 2016, Donald Trump was elected president and Scott Pruitt was appointed to head the EPA.
In a fetid corner of the White House swamp, Dow Chemical CEO Andrew Liveris took root. After he provided “advising” and a $1 million donation to Trump’s inauguration fund, Pruitt was persuaded to reject the proposed restrictions on chlorpyrifos. In doing, Pruitt also rejected the scientific conclusion of the EPA’s own chemical safety experts, who stated that the insecticide could harm children and farm workers.
When it comes to questionable chemicals, the stakes are high in Hawai‘i. Our ecosystem is fragile, unique and close-knit. Chlorpyrifos can take weeks or years to break down when it gets into the soil, where it sticks strongly to dirt particles. When it rains, that runoff hits the reef and is toxic to many bird, fish and marine species. The pesticide may build up in the tissue of these animals, some of which we eat.
This impacts the most vulnerable among us: children. “Researchers studied the blood of women who were exposed to chlorpyrifos and the blood of their children from birth for three years. Children who had chlorpyrifos in their blood had more developmental delays and disorders than children who did not have chlorpyrifos in their blood. Exposed children also had more attention deficit disorders and hyperactivity disorders,” the National Pesticide Information Center states.
“Protecting the health and safety of our keiki and residents is one of my top priorities.” Governor David Ige said at the bill signing ceremony. “We must protect our communities from potentially harmful chemicals. At the same time, Hawai‘i’s agriculture industry is extremely important to our state and economy. We will work with the Department of Agriculture, local farmers and the University of Hawai‘i as we seek safe, alternative pest management tools that will support and sustain our agriculture industry for generations to come.”
To be clear, the new law doesn’t just ban chlorpyrifos, and it isn’t immediate. Starting next year, users of restricted pesticides will be required to report the total quantities of the chemicals used, along with the area that was sprayed. There will be no-spray buffer zones 100 feet around schools from 7am-4pm. Users of chlorpyrifos will have a grace period through the year 2022, during which they can receive temporary permits to continue its use.
This is progress on multiple fronts: toxic chlorpyrifos will be banned, restricted use pesticide disclosure will be mandatory (currently it’s voluntary) and there is an establishment of buffer zones to protect schools. To some, however, this is just one battle in a longer war against industrial agriculture in the islands.
After all, it’s the industrial seed-agrochemical giants Monsanto, Dow, DuPont and Syngenta that most report using restricted use pesticides like chlorpyrifos. Of these companies, Monsanto has locations on Maui that are known restricted pesticide users – one of which about one mile uphill from the shore, less than a mile upwind of Kamali‘i Elementary and a mile from Lokelani Intermediate School. The other Monsanto location is less than a half mile away from the beach and adjacent to Kealia Pond. Both Monsanto sites are near residential areas. This highlights the shortcomings of the buffer zones created by the bill.
Further, “SB 3095’s 100 foot no-spray zones are 13 times smaller than the 1/4 mile standard set by a similar law in California.” Ashley Lukens, program director of the Hawai‘i Center for Food Safety said. “Although this is a huge win, it is just the beginning. We need continued community and lawmaker education to make this work possible. We need to continue organizing to ensure we have the strongest and most effective advocacy base possible.”
The grace period allowing the continued use of the banned chemical has been another subject of debate. Essentially, the law acknowledges the danger that chlorpyrifos pose to vulnerable populations and the environment… yet gives companies license to use the pesticide another four-and-a-half years.
The arc of the moral universe is long indeed.
People involved in this battle will be familiar with the 2014 GMO moratorium ballot initiative for Maui County, which targeted GMOs and the pesticides sprayed by seed-agrochemical companies in unknown combinations and volumes. Even after Monsanto and Dow spent $8 million to oppose the GMO moratorium with misleading radio and TV spots and glossy mail-outs, Maui voted to do away with the GM seed companies and their chemicals.
Then Monsanto and Dow dragged Maui County to federal court and won, invalidating the moratorium. That said, the initiative made it clear where the people of Maui stand on the issues of environmental protection, health, and sustainable, local food production. Lukens is right when she says we need continued organizing and education. It’s an election year, and an populace empowered by knowledge and communication is the best way to encourage progress.
Despite any shortcomings in SB 3095, it is signed into law and is a step forward, leading the nation in the right direction. It is the result of years of attempts, tireless organizers, concerned citizens and countless hours. The bill shows that the will of the people can overcome federal corruption and ineptitude, and that after a certain point, legislators will be forced to listen or risk losing their jobs. Remember that this election season.