Hawaiʻi will ban chlorpyrifos, establish meaningful pesticide regulations

With Governor Ige's signature, SB3095 will become law and Hawaiʻi will lead the nation in establishing progressive policy that protects the health and safety of its people and environment.

News Report
Will Caron

After more than four years of dedicated organizing and advocacy at the legislature, activists seeking meaningful, statewide pesticide regulations can celebrate: The governor is signing SB3095 SD1 HD1 CD1 into law. The new statute will restrict pesticide use near schools, prohibit the use of the dangerous pesticide chlorpyrifos, and require transparency and disclosure for the use of Restricted Use Pesticides (RUPs) in large quantities. The measure puts Hawaiʻi at the forefront of leadership on pesticide reform in America.

“Protecting the health and safety of our keiki and residents is one of my top priorities,” said Governor Ige. “We must protect our communities from potentially harmful chemicals. At the same time, Hawai‘i’s agriculture industry is extremely important to our state and economy. We will work with the Department of Agriculture, local farmers and the University of Hawai‘i as we seek safe, alternative pest management tools that will support and sustain our agriculture industry for generations to come.”

“As a mother who agonized about the dangers of sending my children to a school next to Monsanto’s fields where RUPs were sprayed regularly, I am so grateful to see this bill become law,” said Molokai lawyer and activist Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, who is running for Maui County Council’s Molokai seat.

“Hawaiʻi’s efforts have set a precedent, and we hope this will pave the way for other states that are looking to enact similar legislation,” said Leslee Matthews, a Richardson Law School student and legislative aid for the Pesticide Action Network.

More specifically, the law will:

1. Place a prohibition on use of pesticides within 100 feet of a school during instructional hours. “School” is defined as any public or private kindergarten, elementary or secondary school, excluding home schools; and “normal hours” are from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.

2. Totally ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos effective Jan 1, 2019. The Department of Agriculture is authorized to issue exemptions through Dec. 31, 2022 to allow agricultural businesses time to adjust to the ban.

3. Provide a $300,000 appropriation from Pesticides Revolving Fund to effectuate the measure, including expenses for staffing, education and outreach.

4. Provide a $300,000 appropriation from general revenues to develop a pesticide drift monitoring study to evaluate pesticide drift at three schools within the state.

5. Require commercial agricultural entities to regularly report their pesticide use.

The United States Environmental Protections Agency (EPA) under the Obama Administration was poised to ban chlorpyrifos in the U.S., but the Trump EPA reversed that decision almost immediately after President Trump took office.

“This law is our message to the EPA and to the chemical companies that we will no longer tolerate being ground zero for the testing of toxic pesticides that are damaging our children’s health and poisoning our environment,” said Gary Hooser, former Majority Leader of the Hawai’i Senate and founder of the Hawaiʻi Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA). Hooser, who lives on Kauaʻi, led the “Protect our Keiki” coalition of diverse residents from across the islands through the complex political process that resulted in this much needed compromise law to regulate how highly toxic chemicals like chlorpyrifos are unleashed on the community.

“This is Hawai’i fighting back against the disrespect for science and public health—and winning! In the era of Trump, states must lead,” added Hooser.

The struggle for reform of industrial agricultural pesticide use in Hawaiʻi goes back even further though. After school children down wind of open-air agrochemical testing fields became ill, community members across the state began questioning the veracity of public health and safety assurances the companies and the government had given them. When the companies refused to disclose the type, amount and frequency of the pesticides they were spraying to the affected communities, members of the public mobilized and held mass demonstrations across the state. County officials in Kauaʻi, Maui and Hawaiʻi counties passed ordinances restricting the use of pesticides, as well as the development of GMOs. The companies fought back, successfully suing to block these attempts at regulation at the county level. So activists redoubled their efforts to bring about statewide action.

A coalition of families, teachers, scientists, health professionals and advocates from the Hawai’i Alliance for Progressive Action (H.A.P.A.), Hawai’i Center for Food Safety, Hawai‘i SEED, Pesticide Action Network and others worked for years to push forward the legislation in spite of millions of dollars spent by the agrochemical industry to thwart the process. This coalition put in years of organizing work and, as a result, was able to mobilize affected community members and constituents of key legislators like House Majority Floor Leader, Representative Dee Morikawa (Niʻihau, Lehua, Kōloa, Waimea) and Senator Roz Baker (South & West Maui). These constituents sacrificed time and money to fly in to Oʻahu repeatedly to testify in front of their legislators, which kept the pressure on these lawmakers and effectively maneuvered them into a position in which they could not afford to stonewall proposed regulations as they had done in previous years. The fact that 2018 is an election year, and a number of strong, anti-pesticide challengers are running against these incumbents and making pesticide misuse a key campaign issue, made legislative survival a primary motivator for legislators to agree to pass the measure.

In a prepared statement, Morikawa said the bill is a common-sense solution for protecting our children and families from possible negative effects from chemical pesticides and the need for agricultural businesses to use some pesticides on their farms:

“Lawmakers made history by passing the first measure in the nation to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos and to restrict the use of certain pesticides within 100 feet of schools,” said Morikawa. “In Hawai‘i, children and families come first and this law says that we truly mean it.”

Morikawa had not previously been receptive to the idea of regulating the agrochemical industry’s use of RUPs, but after lending her support to SB3095 this year, the industry is running a challenger against her in the Democratic primary as retribution. As the representative for areas of Kauaʻi directly impacted by pesticide exposure in schools, her decision to support the bill this session carried a lot of weight with her colleagues and secured its passage through conference committee.

Agriculture Committee Chair, Representative Richard Creagan (Naʻālehu, Ocean View, Capt. Cook, Kealakekua, Kailua-Kona) has been a staunch supporter of pesticide regulation. In the same prepared statement, he reiterated that the pesticide chlorpyrifos has already been banned by many other nations, and was poised to be prohibited by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency until the Trump administration backed away from the regulation.

“Becoming the first state to ban chlorpyrifos to protect public health sends a message to our residents that we will protect them and to other states that they need to step up and protect their residents,” Creagan said. “We cannot stand by and do nothing when the lives of our children are at risk.”

Representative Chris Lee (Kailua, Waimānalo) said it is critical for residents to know where and when pesticides are being used.

“Without basic information about where and when dangerous pesticides are being sprayed into the air there is no way to confirm which chemicals are causing the illnesses and developmental problems in our communities,” said Lee “For more than a decade pesticide companies have fought against being required to disclose where and when their chemicals are being sprayed, but this bill ensures reporting of restricted pesticide use so any impacts can be determined.”