This article originally appeared in the March 2, 1985, issue of The Nation.
Every year the blessings of statehood are officially celebrated in Hawaii. There are echoes of Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July in the ceremonies, and the rhetoric often sounds as though it were composed for the benefit of the swirling tourists from the mainland: part of a packaged welcome designed to make them feel at once far away and right at home. But among residents of Hawaii statehood is not universally considered a privilege. Despite the speeches and the presence of tourists and the military, despite the local maneuvers of multinational corporations based heaven knows where, the mainland and the Federal government seem, most of the time, remote and unreal.
The Federal government’s directives regarding Hawaii, thousands of miles from Washington, sometimes add to the sense of remoteness. Last month, for instance, the residents of Maui were startled to learn, from the island newspaper and the radio, that the Department of Agriculture had been working on a plan to “eradicate” from the islands what the planners refer to as the tri-fly. The term refers to three species of fruit fly, of which the best known is the so-called Mediterranean fruit fly. Parts of California were sprayed for this insect up to twenty times in recent years with results that have not been fully publicized.
The new plan proposes spraying all the Hawaiian Islands, over a period of six years, with six poisons, three of them organophosphates, several of them suspected carcinogens and mutagens. Of the organophosphates, the most familiar is malathion, which was used in California and, before that, in Florida. The plan proposes spraying some 2.9 million pounds of malathion on the islands, roughly three pounds for each inhabitant, in a manner that is in open violation of the Federal law quoted on the label that must accompany the product when it is sold in stores.
By the time the residents of Maui heard of the plan, some $200,000, to which their own taxes had contributed, had been spent in drawing up a draft environmental impact statement, which is required before Congress will vote funds for the plan. According to Hampton Carson, a distinguished geneticist from the University of Hawaii, there had been a “scoping session,” which apparently means a preliminary discussion by chosen local representatives of this and that, in January of last year on Oahu. The public remained largely unaware of the program. In mid-December a meeting to discuss it was announced very unobtrusively in the Honolulu papers and drew only a small number of professionals who already knew about the plan—biologists, doctors, medical researchers and a member of the Papaya Administrative Committee. They attacked the proposal as ludicrous, impracticable, impossible, absurdly expensive. Carson spoke of the inappropriateness of spraying in the rugged valleys of the islands and of the devastation it would wreak on the fragile remnants of Hawaii’s ecosystem. Even the spokesman for the papaya industry, which devotes a considerable sum every year to combating the fruit flies, said that he and his industry were not in favor of trying to eradicate the flies “at the expense of the health and welfare of Hawaii’s people.”
No public meetings were scheduled on Kauai, though the plan proposed to start the spraying there. A member of the Maui County Council had persuaded Edward Stubbs of the USDA to come to a pre-Christmas meeting in a lecture room at the community college, where public gatherings are not generally held. Primed by stories about the Honolulu session, a crowd of at least 250 people turned out, only to be told by Richard Doutt, a Federal consultant, that their comments should not address the proposal as such but only the draft environmental impact statement, which most of them had not heard of until that moment and which had been, for all practical purposes, unavailable to the public on Maui. Stubbs prefaced the meeting with a soothing statement that the project was only a “proposal” and did not have any of “the pressure of a pending program,” but few in the room seemed reassured.