Ten employees at Syngenta Kauai went to the hospital Wednesday after they walked onto a corn field only 20 hours after the application of chlorpyrifos, an agricultural pesticide that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently considering banning.
Typically Syngenta farm workers are required to wait a full 24 hours after chlorpyrifos application before re-entering a field, pursuant to the product’s label.
Joshua Uyehara, Syngenta Hawaii’s continuous nursery site manager, said in a phone interview that a field supervisor realized that the employees shouldn’t be in the field within a few minutes after they entered it.
He said the employees were taken back to the Syngenta offices, cleaned up and offered medical assistance.
The company drove 10 people to the Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital. Three remained overnight and were released Thursday morning.
By Friday, six had returned to work. All employees have been cleared to return to work on Monday, Uyehara said.
He declined to say what symptoms the employees were exhibiting that led to their hospitalization, noting privacy concerns.
Uyehara said the company paid for the medical care and is conducting “a full review of how we can improve the policies and practices that we have in place to be sure that we continue to maintain a safe work environment.”
The company immediately changed its frequency of re-training employees and will now review safety policies with farm workers every morning.
Syngenta also notified the state Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Hawaii Occupational Safety and Health Division of the incident.
Uyehara said the company doesn’t have any plans to discontinue its use of chlorpyrifos.
“As far as we’re concerned, it’s still registered as safe as long as it’s used in accordance with the label,” he said.
It’s unclear how many workers entered the field. Uyehara said the incident is still under internal investigation. Syngenta Kauai has 108 full-time employees and depending on the time of year may have up to 200 temporary employees.
Uyehara emphasized his commitment to employee safety.
“As the site manager, with respect to the safety of all employees on site, the buck stops with me and I take accountability for that,” he said. “I was a temporary field worker when I started at Syngenta … I grew up on ag and I take the safety of everyone on the site very personally.”
Stay Up To Date On The Coronavirus And Other Hawaii Issues