Ask your grandparents if respiratory ailments were common when they were growing up. Ask how often they heard about cancer, autism, diabetes, autoimmune disorders, asthma and allergies. Did they ever hear of ADD or ADHD?
Chemicals came into our lives 100 years ago and showed up on farms about 60 years ago.
Then, 50 years ago, Rachel Carson published "Silent Spring," which revealed how DDT was an endocrine disrupter that interferes with hormonal function of estrogen and testosterone. Persistent in the environment, it magnifies in intensity as it bioaccumulates, ending up in humans.
It is just such effects that the manufacturers do their best to hide from farmworkers and the public, often covering up the risks and harm for decades.
This has been true for DDT, glyphosate (Roundup), atrazine, 2, 4-D and DBCP. Organochlorines like aldrin and dieldrin are extremely persistent and accumulate in fatty tissue. Workers chronically exposed to pesticides show deficits in cognitive function. Recent evidence suggests that some pesticides cause developmental neurotoxicity at very lower doses.
In 2009, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co. reported using 16 different pesticides including atrazine, Roundup and several other glyphosate strains. Only a few homeowners know that people can request the Department of Health to wipe down a home after HC&S sprays. The few who did got back reports showing the same pesticides sprayed in the fields wound up on their kitchen counters.
Maui Pineapple Co. was permitted to use DBCP long after all other counties in the U.S. had been forced to discontinue its use. While Maui Pine is long gone, the DBCP remains in our aquifers. How many other pesticides are in our aquifers? Who will test those waters?
The newest corporate farm operator is Monsanto, which has more than 1,000 acres on Molokai and hundreds on Maui. Famous as the company that manufactured PCBs and Agent Orange and covered up their human and environmental harm, Monsanto now bills itself as a life science company deploying patented seeds to save the world. It could begin by saving field workers from contamination when using the wide range of restricted-use pesticides it employs and telling the rest of us what, where, when and how much of these pesticides are applied.
What about oversight and protection by the state? Kauai County Council Member Gary Hooser explained: "The DOH has shown no regular, consistent, systematic testing of soil, water or air in the vicinity of these industrial operations . . . and the Department of Agriculture has shown by its past action and inaction that it's not equipped or interested in accepting the responsibility. The DOA does not even know what pesticides are used, how much is used, nor where they are being used. On Kauai, companies that apply pesticides 250 times per year might be inspected by the DOA seven."
Meanwhile, people on Kauai's west side are reporting serious illnesses. Physicians testify that their patients have 10 times the national rate of certain rare birth defects. See stoppoisoningparadise.org. And now mothers on Molokai are reporting a wide variety of health problems amid fears for the health of the sustainable economy there as clouds of pesticides drift into their homes and down over the fishponds. South Maui residents complain of headaches, nausea and respiratory problems. Some report smelling bubble gum, the scent used to mask the pesticides' smell.
The governor may think Hawaii's future is in seeds and our mayor might support agriculture until it's proved unsafe, but we need to stop risking our health for corporate profits. We must be aggressively proactive now to protect our families and the environment. This is a county responsibility.
Thanks to the foresight of Council Member Elle Cochran, there is a bill that is now being heard in Council Chambers. It is a reasonable first step based on the bill that Kauai passed in December. Maui deserves the same level of protection.
Take time to study the bill and learn more about the health risks of Monsanto's pesticides. Then talk to your neighbors and lawmakers.
* Mark Sheehan, Ph.D., is an educator and health advocate. He manages an organic farm in Haiku.