When Scott Pruitt took over the top spot at the Environmental Protection Agency last year, one of his first formal actions was to reject the recommendation of his agency’s own scientists and refuse to ban the brain-damaging pesticide chlorpyrifos. The move came just 20 days after Pruitt had met with the CEO of Dow Chemical, the manufacturer of chlorpyrifos, and earned strong rebukes not only from environmental groups but also from the American Academy of Pediatrics. “We are deeply alarmed that the EPA’s decision to allow the continued use of chlorpyrifos contradicts the agency’s own science and puts developing fetuses, infants, children, and pregnant women at risk,” the AAP wrote to Pruitt in a joint letter with the Environmental Working Group.
Now the state of Hawaiʻi is stepping into the breach. On June 13, Hawaiʻi Governor David Ige signed legislation to phase out the use of chlorpyrifos on the islands and pass other commonsense regulations on pesticides there. The bill, SB 3095, was a long time coming.
Hawaiʻi over the past two decades has become ground zero for field trials of genetically engineered corn seeds by the world’s largest chemical companies, including DowDuPont, ChemChina-Syngenta, Pioneer, BASF, and Monsanto (recently purchased by Bayer). These trials require heavy spraying of pesticides, many of which are known to be toxic. The companies were drawn to Hawaiʻi in part because its temperate climate allows multiple growing cycles per year. What’s more, the state’s remote location and lack of strong regulatory bodies have meant that the chemical industry has been operating with little accountability since it took over the leases on thousands of acres in the late 1990s.
On more than a 13,000 of those acres in Kauaʻi, stretching across the non-touristy west side, home to much of the island’s Native Hawaiian population, these companies have established the world’s epicenter for developing new genetically engineered corn seeds paired with pesticides. Many of these pesticides are “restricted use,” an EPA designation for pesticides that have a potential to “cause unreasonable adverse effects to the environment and injury” to people and, therefore, are supposed to only be sprayed by certified pesticide applicators or those supervised by one. They include the herbicide atrazine, an endocrine disruptor, and chlorpyrifos, which has long been known to damage the brains of developing fetuses and children. Experts assert there is no safe level of exposure for children. (Indeed, these findings formed the basis of the ban the EPA instituted on chlorpyrifos for indoor use way back in 2001).