Legislature passes restrictions on the use of pesticides

Measure includes reporting, limited use around schools and a chlorpyrifos ban

The state Legislature on Tuesday passed a bill that restricts pesticide use near schools, requires reporting of their use and bans some chemicals.

“I’m happy for what we got today,” said Maui resident Autumn Ness, who is part of the Hawaii Center for Food Safety Advisory Board, one of many groups and individuals supporting the measure.

But Ness, who was on Oahu to see the measure pass, said more can be done and added that she is “furious” that it took so long to pass the bill.

“Take it as a package, this bill is a good start,” she said.

Ness pointed to the banning of the pesticide chlorpyrifos, which the Environmental Protection Agency has said can overstimulate the nervous system and cause nausea, dizziness and confusion. In major spills, the chemical can cause respiratory paralysis and death, though the EPA said further study is needed.

“Hawaii was brave enough to ban this,” Ness said, adding that Hawaii could be an example for other municipalities.

In 2000, the EPA removed residential uses of chlorpyrifos from the market but did not issue an outright ban. Some states have tried to ban chlorpyrifos but failed, Rep. Chris Lee of Oahu, House Conference Committee co-chairman, said last week.

If Gov. David Ige signs the measure, Hawaii would become the first state to completely ban the substance, Lee said. 

The bill includes: 

• No use of pesticides within 100 feet of a school during instructional hours. This includes public and private kindergarten, elementary and secondary schools.

• Banning the use of chlorpyrifos effective Jan. 1. The state Department of Agriculture is authorized to issue exemptions through Dec. 31, 2022, to allow agricultural businesses time to adjust to the ban.

• Providing a $300,000 appropriation from the Pesticides Revolving Fund for bill-related expenses like staffing, education and outreach.

• Providing a $300,000 appropriation from general revenues to develop a pesticide drift monitoring study to evaluate pesticide drift at three schools within the state. The bill does not specify which schools.

• Requiring commercial agricultural companies to regularly report their pesticide use.

Dan Clegg, the Monsanto Hawaii business operations lead, said in an email Tuesday afternoon that the company will be better able to assess how the legislation may affect the farms when administrative rules to accompany the bill are drawn up.

He added that Monsanto, which has operations in Kihei and on Molokai, has been voluntarily reporting its annual use of restricted pesticides in Maui County for several years. It also shares information about its farm stewardship practices at free farm tours and community presentations and on its website and social media outlets.

Monsanto has used products containing chlorpyrifos on an as-needed basis, he said.

The company’s biggest concern with the measure is “over the potential negative impact of this legislation on Hawaii’s farmers and the greater ag industry,” Clegg said. “Public policies that increase regulatory burdens on farmers and take away helpful tools are detrimental to agriculture,” he said.

In testimony to the Legislature, Clegg said that Monsanto abides by uses on the pesticide label, which is the end product of an extensive risk  evaluation by the EPA. The evaluation also includes review of more than 100 studies on human health and the environment that are required before a pesticide is registered for use.

Warren Watanabe, executive director of the Maui County Farm Bureau, who opposed the bill during the legislative process, said Tuesday that the bureau understands “that there are questions and concerns about pesticides” and “appreciate our elected leaders for being responsive and working to address those concerns.”

“Given the facts, however, it would seem appropriate that the focus should be on pesticides used that have actually caused problems,” he said. “Rather than focus negatively on agriculture, let’s have a conversation about working together when concerns arise about farming practices. We should do all we can to support and strengthen farming in Hawaii while protecting the people and environment.”

Ness raised issues with the annual reports filed with the state Department of Agriculture and what will be done with them and the department’s role in pesticide drift monitoring for several schools. She said that pesticide monitoring by the department at schools in the past was inadequate.

Mike Moran of the Kihei Community Association testified in favor of the measure, saying that the South Maui community “has serious concerns about the air quality” and long-standing concerns about “corporate generated conditions.”

Moran pointed to affordable rental projects in north Kihei, one of which is adjacent to a seed corn growing facility, probably run by Monsanto. “In spite of this need for homes for our residents, many in our community are voicing concern for the welfare of our local families with kids being exposed to the pesticide-spray drift,” he said.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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