Does Hawaii's Failure to Enforce Pesticide Use Justify Action by Kauai?

Sophie Cocke/ Civil Beat

The state Department of Agriculture has only one employee assigned to review pesticide inspection reports and follow up on possible violations. And she says she hasn't gotten around to reviewing most reports in several years so there's been little if any action against pesticide misuse.

Since 2009, the department has suffered budget cuts that have stretched its pesticide oversight to the limit, its director says. There are only six pesticide inspectors in the state, including one on Kauai, where local officials are moving to take pesticide oversight into their own hands.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Health has no program in place to regularly test for pesticide contamination in the soil, air, or water. The sole position on Kauai that is supposed to monitor dust under pesticide regulations has been vacant for more than a year.

The state's lack of ability to effectively oversee pesticide use and public health concerns is giving impetus to a move by the Kauai County Council to take matters into its own hands. The council is slated to vote as early as today on a measure — Bill 2491 — that would increase county oversight of the heaviest agricultural users of restricted-use pesticides, namely the four biotech companies operating on the island — Syngenta, DuPont-Pioneer, Dow and BASF — and Kauai Coffee Co.

“We need to do something. We can’t count on the state,” said Kauai County Councilman Gary Hooser, who co-sponsored the bill with Councilman Tim Bynum. “In our particular situation, I believe there is urgency. The doctors we talked to in those committee hearings believe there is urgency and we can’t sit around and wait for the state to get its act together.”

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