Passing laws like the ones adopted by other states, including California, that provide adequate buffer zones for pesticide applications will protect public health, especially that of pregnant woman, infants and children in Hawaii. Informing the public about agricultural pesticides before they are used and the mandatory reporting of such use, as required by California, will also be in the public interest.

In 2015-2016, at the request of the Hawaii Department of Health and the Joint Fact-Finding Committee chair, I served as a pro bono liaison expert, helping to develop many of its important recommendations.  As the former senior health and science advisor for U.S. EPA in Chicago, I led or participated in more than 150 federal investigations regarding human exposure to toxic chemicals and pesticides.

Mycogen corn fields on Molokai. Hawaii lawmakers are considering legislation regarding the use of pesticides. PF Bentley/Civil Beat

In doing so, I worked directly with agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and health and environmental departments in the states of Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio. Here then are answers to key questions that legislators might have about how vitally important this legislation is.

Why Is This Legislation Needed In Hawaii?

1) Several recent epidemiological studies conducted in California and published in peer reviewed literature have found strong associations with adverse health effects (e.g., autism, autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, fetal defects) and proximity (up to 0.9 mile) to California agricultural fields or known pesticide exposures within a quarter mile. Some of these California studies directly measured the amount of pesticides in the human biological samples (e.g., urine, blood). They found strong statistical correlations with adverse health effects in children.

2) Many of the pesticides showing adverse health impacts in California children, such as chlorpyrifos, dicofol, endosulfan, pyrethoids and carbamates are used extensively in Hawaii agricultural operations at amounts per acre, similar to those applied in California. There are numerous areas in Hawaii where schools, day care centers, nursing homes and residential properties are within one mile of major agricultural operations using highly toxic pesticides, and some are within a quarter mile.

Hawaii legislators have the opportunity to take action this year on steps that the EPA, under its current leadership, has refrained from taking.

3) Pesticide drift causing acute illnesses at schools is not uncommon. A 2005 study found 2,593 persons with pesticide-related illnesses at U.S. schools between 1998 and 2002. Among the cases that detailed the source of exposure, about one third were linked to pesticide drift from nearby farmland.

4) A comprehensive review of 35 publications (published 1995-2013) found that agricultural drift, as measured by proximity to treated farmland, was associated with higher detection rates and concentrations of common agricultural pesticides in indoor dust. These events occur even where EPA pesticide label directions have been followed.

What Has California Done To Protect Public Health?

1) As of January 2018 pesticide applications within a quarter mile of public K-12 schools and licensed child day-care facilities are prohibited during school hours, Monday through Friday between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. This includes all applications by aircraft, sprinklers, air-blast sprayers, and all fumigant applications. In addition, most dust and powder pesticide applications will also be prohibited during this time. This quarter mile restriction is directly the result of adverse health effects found in the California studies of children living near agricultural fields.

2) California growers are required to provide annual notification to public K-12 schools and licensed day-care facilities, as well as county agricultural commissioners, of the pesticides expected to be used within a quarter mile of these schools and facilities in the upcoming year.

If The EPA Has Approved A Pesticide For Use, Isn’t It Safe?

1) Until recently pesticides have not been fully evaluated for subtle neurological impacts. For example, over the past few decades, as more information has been learned about lead, a potent neurological toxin to children, the acceptable exposures to lead have been repeatedly lowered. As more science on adverse health effects has become available, EPA has banned or restricted many pesticides such as chlordane, heptachlor, aldrin, dieldrin, lindane and pentachloraphenol because they were no longer found to be safe.

Voluntary pesticide programs do not work well.

2) Chlorpyrifos is another good example of how science evolves. For years, EPA had approved the use of chlorpyrifos. In 2000 EPA banned its use on tomatoes and in households. In 2012, a buffer zone around “sensitive areas,” such as schools, was set at 10 feet. After an extensive science review, in 2015 EPA proposed to completely ban chlorpyrifos from all uses on crops, in large part because the residues on foods had the potential to cause adverse neurodevelopmental effects in infants and children. In addition, a 2016 EPA evaluation found that a buffer zone of at least 300 feet was needed for chlorpyrifos due to its tendency to be carried by the wind.

Unfortunately, and against all previous scientific findings by EPA, the Trump administration reversed the 2015 decision to ban all uses of chlorpyrifos.

Hawaii, should move forward and ban this dangerous chemical. 

Why Should Reporting Pesticide Use Be Mandatory?

Voluntary pesticide programs do not work well. There is no incentive to comply, no penalties and the data obtained will always be unreliable. That is why California has adopted the most comprehensive pesticide use reporting system in the country. Kauai should also adopt mandatory pesticide reporting, as the types and amounts of pesticides used per acre in Kauai agriculture are similar to those used in California.

Why Is Advance Notification Of Pesticide Spraying Important?

Advance notification will provide schools and other facilities with information to best protect children and residents. This will allow school officials to determine if windows should be closed or if children should be kept inside during recess hours. This is not an unreasonable or burdensome requirement on agriculture and would foster better understanding between agricultural pesticide users and local communities.

Hawaii legislators have the opportunity to take action this year on steps that the EPA, under its current leadership, has refrained from taking. Pesticide disclosure and notification requirements, and buffer zones are not just nice to have; they are must haves, to protect children, pregnant woman and the general population from the known health impacts of restricted use pesticides.

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