While those who are aware of the history of Syngenta and the nature of their business might not need further justification, others may be puzzled by my recent decision to vote No on this appointment.
The Kauai Board of Water Supply is governed by a Board of Directors who hire and fire its manager, and who control the budget and key decisions made with regards to the protection and management of Kauai drinking water.
The Mayor appoints and the Council approves 4 members from the community at large to serve on the Board. 3 additional members of the county administration are exofficio members.
An opening occurred on the Board and Mayor Carvalho appointed his former assistant Beth Tokioka who now works for Syngenta to fill the open seat. Her job at Syngenta is to represent company interests out in the community.
Syngenta is one of the largest chemical companies in the world. They manufacture, sell and use the Restricted Use Pesticide (RUP) Atrazine (and many other chemicals and pesticides). Because of its propensity to contaminate drinking water, Atrazine has been banned in the European Union and in Syngenta’s home country of Switzerland. Syngenta has been sued by countless cities, towns and various Water Boards around the nation for their involvement in the contamination of drinking water systems. In 2012 Syngenta agreed to pay a $105,000,000 settlement to numerous municipalities including Kauai (which received about $10,000) for their involvement in contaminating drinking water systems.
Syngenta and other agrochemical companies apply large quantities of Atrazine and other pesticides to their fields located primarily on Kauai’s west side. Though some voluntary disclosure has occurred, to date they have all refused to fully disclose their pesticide use as to type, quantity and location of use.
Syngenta is currently suing Kauai County rather than comply with a local ordinance (#960) that required the company to fully disclose pesticide use and put in place buffer zones around schools, hospitals and homes. The court ruled in favor of Syngenta and that ruling has been appealed by Kauai County to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In the past the State Department of health has discovered Atrazine in Kauai streams. Government sponsored testing also found traces of the pesticide in Kauai drinking water and in a water fountain at Waimea Canyon Middle School. At the present time, recent testing of various wells around the County do not show the presence of Atrazine.
The Board of Water Supply is responsible for approving the budget and contracts for all water testing. The board could also increase the level of scrutiny of the water quality if they chose to do so.
On the surface I would think for most people the above evidence is more than sufficient to conclude that a representative from a major global polluter of drinking water systems is not an appropriate person to put on a Board that is responsible for protecting a community’s drinking water.
When adding into the decision making criteria the recent 3 year history of Bill 2491 (Ordinance 960), the subsequent lawsuit, the Joint Fact Finding report, the ongoing community concerns about pesticides and the pervasive distrust of the agrochemical industry in general, it makes it even more difficult to find any rational justification for the appointment.
However given the nominee’s high profile, positive reputation and long history of community involvement some may still not understand or accept the basis of my No vote on this appointment.
It is difficult for some to comprehend that a person may be highly intelligent and of strong character, and still be an inappropriate nominee for various positions.
There are the basic “optics” (given the history of the issue this just looks very bad), there are real conflicts of interest (the Water Board may have to test or investigate past or future contamination by Syngenta), there are perceived conflicts of interest and there is an inherent bias every person carries with them on a daily basis.
Each of us looks at the world through our own “lens” which is formed to a large extent by the work that we do and the people that are around us.
Each of the Board of Water Supply members comes to the table with a different lens from which they view the world and consequently a different inherent bias. Each is most likely a responsible citizen and trying their best to serve their community but each have their own way of looking at things.
Appointed to the water board presently is a banker, a lawyer, the president of the Farm Bureau, and now a representative of the agrochemical industry.
At the risk of over-simplifying a very complex matter here is an example that explores the point I am trying to make.
Given the global history of the issue, the intensity of pesticide use on Kauai and the nature of pesticide drift, it is very likely that at some point in the future Atrazine or other pesticides will again be detected in our drinking water.
One could easily imagine that when such a situation does occur: It is likely that the banker would initially look at the situation in terms of how much it will cost, the lawyer will look at it in terms of potential liability, the Farm Bureau president will say that it’s just part of farming and if you want to eat we have to accept it and the agrochemical representative will say that it’s below federal guidelines. And they may not be be inclined to dig deeper and do additional testing as it would cost more, and cast negative light on agriculture and pesticides.
If the mayor had appointed a physician to this position the inherent response would be concern for the health of young children and pregnant women. The natural bias of a physician would be to likely request additional testing.
If an environmentalist had been appointed their natural inclination would likely be to inquire further about impacts on the natural environment.
If a hydrologist was on the Board they would want to know first and foremost if this chemical was in the ground water. The prospect of additional testing and a deeper investigation would be certain.
Of course this example is an over-simplification but the point is we each have a natural bias and that is inherently applied to our decision making.
The above discussion in its totality (history of the issue, perceived conflicts, actual conflicts and inherent bias) represent my reasoning behind the decision to vote No on this appointment. My vote is not a judgment on the person so much as it is a judgment on the entire set of circumstances surrounding the appointment, the responsibilities of the position and the need to both protect our water and to restore faith and confidence in government.