Bill eyes regulations on users of restricted-use pesticides

A bill that would establish regulations on users of restricted pesticides is on the cusp of being passed into law after the state House unanimously voted to pass it last week.

Senate Bill 3095 would, if passed, establish a series of requirements imposed upon agricultural businesses that use more than 35 pounds or 35 gallons of restricted-use pesticides in a year.

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The bill makes several proposals that would require greater transparency from users of restricted-use pesticides, substances to which access is limited because of their adverse effects on the environment or negative health effects.

One such proposal would require users of restricted-use pesticides to report on their use of the pesticides at the end of each year. These reports would include which substance is used, how much of it is used and where it is used.

Another regulation would establish buffer zones within 100 feet of school properties. Within such zones, the use of restricted-use pesticides would be expressly prohibited.

Finally, the bill proposes a ban on the use of all pesticides containing the chemical chlorpyrifos — prolonged exposure to which has been linked with a higher risk of lung cancer, as well as autoimmune disease and developmental delays in children — that would take effect at the beginning of next year.

The ban would have one exception: Upon request, the Department of Agriculture would be able to authorize people to use pesticides containing chlorpyrifos until the end of 2021. However, the department would publicly disclose the names of all people applying for and awarded such a permit.

Sen. Russell Ruderman, D-Puna, one of the introducers of the bill, said such public disclosure might serve as a deterrent for those seeking exemption to the ban — “and that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” he added.

Nearly 2,000 pages of testimony regarding the bill were submitted during three different hearings since the bill was introduced. Public testimony was overwhelmingly in support of the proposal.

“The proposed amendments will protect Hawaii’s keiki from the impacts of large-scale agricultural pesticide use,” wrote Brent Norris, executive director of Hilo nonprofit Green Collar Technologies. “A ban on chlorpyrifos would protect keiki from a dangerous neurotoxin that is known to create neurodevelopment disorders in fetuses and children’s brains.”

Hundreds of residents throughout the state wrote to voice their support.

“We need mandatory disclosure and notification, along with pilot programs for buffer zones and drift studies around schools,” wrote hundreds of residents in a copied form letter. “Additional studies on pesticide drift are meaningless without knowledge of what pesticides were and are being applied. Chlorpyrifos is a known neurotoxin that has no place in Hawaii.”

The majority of the few voices in opposition to the bill were from agricultural organizations. The Hawaii Farm Bureau criticized the bill, writing, “If we truly want to protect children from exposure to pesticides, we should start with a program that identifies risk to students. This bill only targets Hawaii farmers’ use, which has not been identified as a source of health problems in the community.”

Meanwhile, multinational agricultural corporation Monsanto also opposed the bill. Dan Clegg, Monsanto Hawaii business operations lead, wrote: “Monsanto and other farmers in Hawaii need to be able to control pests in their crops. Insects, weeds and diseases can have a devastating effect on crop yield and quality, and farmers need to have a variety of tools available to help control them.”

Clegg also emphasized that Monsanto’s use of pesticides is as safe as possible and is in accordance to the pesticide’s label, which itself is the product of an extensive risk evaluation by the Environmental Protection Agency.

However, Ruderman said that, although the issue of pesticide regulation has been bitterly contested through the years, many large-scale users of restricted-use pesticides have quieted on the issue. This, he said, was exemplified by the unanimous support for the bill in the House, with both parties backing the Democrat-authored bill.

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The Senate has until Thursday to voice objections to amendments to the bill made by the House.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com