A Kauai farm is facing millions of dollars in fines after nearly a dozen workers got sick earlier this year.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has filed a complaint alleging that Syngenta Seeds, LLC violated numerous federal pesticide regulations meant to protect agricultural workers at its crop research farm in Kekaha, Kauai.
EPA is seeking civil penalties of over $4.8 million for the violations.
On Jan. 20, 2016, 19 workers entered a Syngenta field recently sprayed with a restricted use organophosphate insecticide. Ten of these workers were taken to a nearby hospital for medical treatment. Restricted use pesticides are not available to the general public because of their high toxicity, potential for harm and impact on the environment.
The company named in the complaint does business as Syngenta Hawaii, LLC., a subsidiary of Syngenta AG, a global enterprise that produces chemicals and seeds. The EPA complaint states that Syngenta misused the pesticide “Lorsban Advanced,” and it failed in its duties to adequately implement the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act’s Worker Protection Standard.
Specifically, EPA alleges that Syngenta failed to notify its workers to avoid fields recently treated with pesticides, and then allowed or directed workers to enter the treated field before the required waiting period had passed, and without proper personal protective equipment. After the workers’ exposure, Syngenta failed to provide adequate decontamination supplies onsite and failed to provide prompt transportation for emergency medical attention, it said.
“The active ingredient in the organophosphate pesticide (“Lorsban Advanced”) was chlorpyrifos. That causes at small, low-exposure quantities the runny nose, the headache, the tearing of the eyes. But it can accelerate based on the amount of exposure to muscle seizures, vomiting, diarrhea, and so on,” said Dean Higuchi with the EPA. “We’re very concerned that they (Syngenta) did not follow through on all the regulations to protect their workers from undue exposure in terms of amount or even time to pesticides applied on their fields.”
An inspector from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture was present at the Syngenta facility when the exposure incident occurred, prompting the State’s immediate investigation. In March, HDOA referred the matter to EPA for follow-up investigation and enforcement. In April, EPA inspectors conducted a series of inspections, which led to the complaint.
Syngenta has 30 days to respond to the complaint. It released the following statement:
“Syngenta has been working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Region 9, for a number of months to resolve allegations related to a worker re-entry incident at a Syngenta farm in Kauai on January 20, 2016. Syngenta has taken responsibility in this matter. No workers were injured in the incident.
“The Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) was on site at the time of the incident and participated in the company’s response, then promptly conducted a thorough and complete investigation.
“After HDOA’s investigation was completed, EPA Region 9 conducted a follow up investigation. Since then, Syngenta has worked diligently with EPA to ensure information presented about the incident is factual. However, Syngenta believes EPA is not characterizing the matter accurately. Syngenta believes EPA is overreaching its authority with this enforcement, lacking precedent and disregarding its own policies and regulations.
“Further, Syngenta believes EPA’s position will have a negative impact on the way others respond to such matters and actually reduce, not increase worker safety outcomes. Syngenta is disappointed with the decision to file a complaint and will present its case through the normal administrative process.
“Agricultural worker safety is a top priority for Syngenta and safe use training has for many years been an integral part of the way the company does business worldwide. This promise is embedded in The Good Growth Plan as one of six commitments the company identified in 2013: ‘Help people stay safe by training 20 million farm workers on labor safety…’
“To achieve this objective, which is independently audited, Syngenta developed new guidelines and tools in six languages. Training programs raise awareness of hazards, principally those related to crop protection products, and show how to manage and prevent them. More than 90 percent of this training is delivered by Syngenta teams. To extend their reach, they work with both commercial and academic partners. In 2015, Syngenta reached 5.7 million people around the world through dedicated safety training programs and the cumulative total of people reached exceeds 10 million. As a global leader, Syngenta takes worker safety seriously.”