Monsanto facing fine for claims in air pollution case
Monsanto Co. would pay the state $3,000 to settle a case involving air pollution violations in 2012 at its Molokai operations, according to a proposed settlement.
The state Department of Health filed the proposed consent order March 27 and contends that Monsanto operations in Kaunakakai violated air pollution rules and laws by “causing or permitting visible fugitive dust to become airborne without taking reasonable precautions to prevent it” on three occasions in 2012 – Nov. 21 and Dec. 2 and 20.
The Health Department defines fugitive dust as the emission of solid airborne particles from noncombustion sources.
Last July, the Health Department cited Monsanto seed corn farm operations for the 2012 incidents and issued a $3,400 fine. The state and Monsanto later agreed to a proposed $3,000 settlement.
In an email statement Friday, Carol Reimann, community and government affairs manager for Monsanto Hawaii, said the company is pleased that the issue is being brought to a close. She added that Monsanto has soil and water conservation plans in place on all of its farms in Hawaii and “uses multiple best management practices to minimize soil loss.”
The practices include cross slope grass plantings, diversion terraces, cover crops, grass barrier strips, windbreaks, minimum tillage practices, spraying water on dirt roads and laying gravel on high traffic roads.
“We also monitor our fields on a regular basis, particularly during times of heavy rainfall, and use sediment basins to capture runoff and settle out soil so we can put it back on the farm. Under excessive wind and severe drought conditions, we may halt all tillage activity until weather conditions improve,” Reimann said.
The consent order says that any actions taken to comply with its terms are not admissions of violation, fault or liability by Monsanto.
The public may comment on the proposed settlement in the next 30 days, according to a public notice of the proposed settlement published Friday.
Based on comments received, the Health Department could make changes to the order but will work with Monsanto on those changes, per the terms of the order.
Irene Bowie, the executive director of Maui Tomorrow, an environmental, growth management and community advocacy group, applauded the Health Department for its investigation and noted that fugitive dust can be “every bit as harmful” as smoke coming from large agricultural farms.
She put in a plug for Maui Tomorrow’s phone application CleanAirMaui, which allows the public to report smoke and dust from agricultural burns. The app can be found at maui-tomorrow.org.
The Environmental Protection Agency says that fugitive dust can cause health risks, she said. “We encourage people to use our app and really report when they feel there is that fugitive dust in the air,” she said.
Bowie called for increased mitigation of agricultural dust, noting that construction companies have to control their dust; large agricultural entities should have to as well.
On Maui, Bowie acknowledged that fugitive dust can be a problem in north Kihei, especially when it is windy. A dust storm can be a traffic hazard as well, creating low visibility conditions. She is not sure if a combination of Monsanto and Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. fields nearby creates the dusty conditions.
Drought conditions exacerbate fugitive dust problems, said Bowie, adding that still “there has got to be some mitigation.” Hedges and trees bordering the fields could help, she said.
Written comments on the proposed settlement may be sent to: Nolan S. Hirai, manager, Clean Air Branch, Department of Health, P.O. Box 3378 Honolulu, 96801-3378.
The proposed Consent Order and the Notice and Finding of Violation and Order may be reviewed at the Clean Air Branch of the Maui District Health Office, 54 High St., Wailuku, or the Department of Health Molokai office, 65 Makaena Place, Kaunakakai.
A state official said the document currently is not on the Health Department’s website as noted in the public notice and did not know when it would be.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.