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Two Maui families are suing Monsanto over birth defects

Dana Fulton, who is now 28, was born with her throat not connected to her stomach. She was unable to swallow or digest food and required numerous surgeries to reconstruct her esophagus and spent the first nine months of her life in a hospital in Honolulu. She is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Monsanto and Alexander & Baldwin. Photo courtesy of Dana Fulton

The Maui News

Two Maui families, who lived near Monsanto fields in Kihei, filed a lawsuit in 2nd Circuit Court on Thursday against the company, its parent company Bayer, and landowner Alexander & Baldwin, alleging that pesticides and chemicals used in the fields led to birth defects in their children.

Dana Fulton, 28, her parents, Terry and Elizabeth Fulton; and Max Coleman, 17, and his mother, Lory Marques, are the plaintiffs in the case. Monsanto Hawaii Production Co. LLC also is named as a defendant.

Both families lived in Hale Piilani, a residential neighborhood less than 500 yards from Monsanto’s fields in north Kihei.

“Monsanto’s reckless use of pesticides and harmful chemicals near a residential neighborhood have put numerous Maui families at risk,” said Ilana Waxman, partner at Galiher DeRobertis & Waxman, in a news release Thursday. “Monsanto knew these dangerous substances would drift into nearby communities.”

Max Coleman, who is now 17, suffered limited kidney function due to an improperly formed tube between his kidney and bladder at birth. Surgery was required to correct the problem. His family is suing Monsanto and Alexander & Baldwin, alleging pesticides and other chemicals used in the farming operations led to the health issues. Photo courtesy of Lori Marques

A local Monsanto spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

Darren Pai, spokesman for A&B, said the company had not yet reviewed the lawsuit and was unable to provide comment Thursday.

The law firm said pesticides and chemicals used by Monsanto drifted into the Fulton and Coleman homes through excessive airborne dust generated by Monsanto’s field operations and pesticide applications. Both mothers absorbed the chemicals through their skin and by inhalation while pregnant, which affected their unborn children, the news release said.

Dana Fulton developed tracheoesophageal fistula/ esophageal atresia, in which her throat was not connected to her stomach at birth. She was unable to swallow or digest food.

She required numerous surgeries to reconstruct her esophagus and spent the first nine months of her life in a hospital in Honolulu. Fulton’s condition also led to paralyzed vocal cords and required her to use a tracheostomy tube for breathing.

Coleman suffered limited kidney function due to an improperly formed tube between his kidney and his bladder, which required surgery to correct. He also suffers from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Attorneys said chemicals used in the field included restricted-use pesticides, such as atrazine, paraquat dichloride, chlorpyrifos and glyphosate. These substances have severe adverse effects on human health and the environment, the news release said.

Lawyers also said that the pesticides are known to cause birth defects and cancer and have been banned in many countries.

A&B is a defendant in the lawsuit because it leased the land to Monsanto. In addition, A&B subsidiary Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., which ended operations in 2016, grew sugar cane in fields upwind from the plaintiffs’ homes. Sugar cane operations also included use of herbicides and pesticides, according to the suit.

The plaintiffs did not become aware of the link between the health problems and exposure to pesticides during pregnancy until early November 2017. They heard radio advertisements describing the link between toxic pesticide exposure and birth defects, the suit said.

The suit includes 16 claims for relief, including four claims of negligence, four claims of strict liability/abnormally dangerous activity, four claims of negligent infliction of emotional distress and four claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress.

No monetary damage amount was included in the suit. A court date is pending.