Shedding Light in the Darkness

The Poisoning of Hawaii

chem images

Why would Hawaii’s Department of Education and Board of Education not want to
keep students and staff safe from chemical spraying?

“In November of 2006, after the neighboring fields had been sprayed, 61 students were sent to the health room complaining of headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and dizziness. Thirty-seven were sent home. The spraying continued, as did the illness spikes throughout the year.” — Testimony of Wendy Tannery, teacher at Waimea Canyon Middle School on Kauai, at 2008 state Senate hearing

In May 2007, Kahuku High and Intermediate Schools were closed for three days “after 15 students were sickened by pesticide drifting from a nearby turf farm,” according to the Honolulu Advertiser.

In January 2008, after smelling something described as “garden fertilizer” 60 students of Waimea Canyon Middle School were sent to the health room, and eventually 12 people were sent to the emergency room “to be treated for nausea, burning eyes, difficulty breathing, vomiting, headache, diarrhea and extreme dizziness. . . . The following week parents, students, faculty and staff received a letter from the principal informing us that the field adjacent to the campus
would be sprayed with Lorsban, an insecticide” (Tannery Testimony). Lorsban was supposedly banned by the EPA in 2000.

Out of concern for the safety of students and employees, state Sen. Gary Hooser of Kauai introduced  SB 3170 during the 2008 legislative session. SB 3170 primarily intended to create a pesticide-free buffer zone around schools.

Despite written testimony from teachers, families and physicians who experienced or witnessed the negative health impacts first hand, despite the Hawaii State Teachers Union convincing a court to issue a temporary injunction to stop Syngenta from spraying pesticides in the field next to Waimea Canyon Middle school, and despite the DOE’s own admission that it was “very cognizant of recurring problems that have been created on school campuses by the spraying of chemicals on nearby land,” the DOE submitted testimony in opposition to SB 3170.

Then-Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto testified that the “Department of Education believes this bill goes too far.”

In 2013, University of Hawaii researchers confirmed that five restricted use pesticides were still being found in the ambient air of Waimea Canyon Middle School. The study also found that the pesticide DDT was still blowing around the island of Kauai in measurable quantities despite the fact that the Environmental Protection Agency banned its use in 1973, 40 years earlier.


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