The Kafkaesque threat by Syngenta attorney Paul Alston to sue the people of Kauai County for the right to spray their toxic chemicals next to schools, hospitals and homes is disturbing at best. What kind of world do we live in where large chemical companies are allowed to bully and intimidate small communities attempting only to protect the health and environment of their neighborhoods?
Syngenta is the inventor and primary patent holder of the toxic chemical atrazine which is banned in the European Union. Syngenta’s host country Switzerland prohibits the use of atrazine and yet this company applies it by the ton, year after year on Kauai and around our state.
In 2006 and in 2008 dozens of children and teachers at Waimea Canyon Middle School were sickened and sent to local hospitals.
Syngenta denied that the adjacent fields of experimental corn and the related pesticide spraying was the culprit but eventually, under intense community pressure they stopped spraying those fields and since then there have been no further incidents.
At the time the Hawaii State Teachers Association filed a temporary restraining order against Syngenta to force them to stop spraying next to the school.
Long time residents on the west side of Kauai know that something is wrong. There have been massive sea urchin die offs in nearby coastal areas. Atrazine and other chemicals have been found in the drainage ditches leading from the fields into coastal waters.
Obstetricians, pediatricians and other local physicians have expressed concerns about what they believe to be unusually high levels of normally rare birth defects and certain types of cancers. Parents report their children have higher than normal incidents of nose bleeds and respiratory problems.
In response to increasing community concerns about the health and environmental impacts of the industrial agrochemical practices of Syngenta and other international chemical companies on Kauai, the Kauai County Council recently passed into law Bill 2491 which contains three basic provisions:
1) Pesticide and genetically modified organisim (GMO) disclosure
2) Modest buffer zones around schools, hospitals and homes
3) A county sponsored and paid for comprehensive study of health and environmental impacts
Bill 2491 does not ban pesticides nor does it ban GMO’s, it simply requires disclosure.
The public deserves the right to know what toxic chemicals are being used in their community and what experimental crops are being grown. Bill 2491 is not asking for trade secrets and requests only very basic information.
Over 50 Doctors in our small community have signed testimony in support of Bill 2491. The Hawaii Nurses Association, Local 5 Hotel Workers, the Kauai Board of Realtors and the Hawaii State Teachers Association have all testified in support.
In the largest display of community support for any issue ever on Kauai over 4,000 residents in a community of only 65,000 people marched and gathered at the County building recently.
Residents supporting the Bill slept overnight on the hard and wet cement in front of the County building in order to garner a coveted seat inside the Council chambers, while the chemical companies hired the homeless and down-and-out to hold seats for their executives.
At every step of the way the chemical companies have attempted to block the Bills passage. Their communications and public relations budget is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars as demonstrated by the number of radio spots, newspaper advertisements and direct mailers. They hired prominent community leaders, conducted unethical “push polls”, and employ an army of industry bloggers and social media experts that attack the credibility and integrity of their opponents at every step.
It goes without saying that they pour millions into political campaigns and have easy access to political decision makers at all levels.
But in spite of the enormous resources both financial and political being utilized in opposition to Bill 2491, it was passed into law via a 5 – 2 vote on Saturday November 16 over-riding the earlier veto of Mayor Bernard Carvalho.
Without question, the passing of Bill 2491 into law is a testament to grass roots democracy and community perseverance against all obstacles. The chemical companies and their friends in government threw everything they had at stopping the Bill.
But our community persevered – speaking truth to power with aloha, and won.
Now, the attorney for Syngenta has again threatened to sue the citizens of Kauai, saying a law suit is a certainty. The arrogance of this company has no limit. Instead of acknowledging and respecting the people and the decision of the elected body of Kauai County, they insist on forcing their corporate agenda that shields from the public eye their use of toxic chemicals and allows the continued spraying of highly toxic pesticides near Kauai schools, hospitals and homes.
Clearly they underestimate the resolve and commitment of our community.
*Above was published in the Honolulu Star Adviser on November 19, 2013