Last week, MauiTime publisher Tommy Russo saw something on his way to work that made him pull over and take photos – and no, it wasn’t for the ‘Gram. Rather, the unfortunately unsexy pictures taken beside Hana Highway show a Hawai‘i Gas employee covered head to toe, face-strapped with a respirator and spraying glyphosate (Roundup) in the company’s lot, which is adjacent to Kanaha Pond and bordered only by a chain link fence.
Yes, I understand that the area is owned by Hawai‘i Gas. It’s their property to fill, alter and maintain as they see fit within the law. “Hawaii Gas maintains its property on Hana Highway, including periodically spraying for weeds,” the company told us in a statement. “We do this to reduce overgrowth and the conditions that might contribute to the breeding of pests.” But, especially with the passage of bills like SB 3095 in the state legislature, which would require the mandatory disclosure of restricted use pesticides as well as prohibit their use near schools, I’m left wondering, where is the line we want to draw regarding agrochemical use in our community?
It seems the people of Maui attempted to define this line as a county back in 2014, when an initiative to place a moratorium on GMOs received the popular vote. While aimed at genetically modified organisms in title, a significant portion of the proposed law took action against the seed companies’ use of unknown toxic cocktails and volumes of chemicals in open-air testing environments. Before making the books, the GMO Moratorium was preempted by federal and state law, and never took effect.
Questions of agrochemical use linger, and are only partially addressed by the state bill that targets restricted use pesticides and protects areas within 100 feet of schools solely during school hours. What about Roundup, which is not restricted-use in Hawai‘i (as a trip to the hardware store will tell), but is listed in California as a “probable carcinogen?” What about golf courses and hotels bathing their greens in herbicides and fertilizers? Or runoff and spraying near environmentally sensitive locations like beaches and reefs? What about the lone sprayman on private property, hosing chemicals just feet away from protected wetlands, onto land separated only by a chain link fence, yet arguably still part of the wetland system?
The U.S. National Park Service lists Kanaha Pond as a National Natural Landmark. “Kanaha Pond provides the most important waterbird habitat in Hawaii,” it states on its website, nps.gov. “It is one of the few remaining brackish-water ecosystems, providing refuge for both resident and migratory bird populations.” It is a sanctuary for native and endangered plants and birds. As citizens of Maui County, we need to be sure that we keep it that way.