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LWV-Hawaii Legislative Testimony

HCR 219

Requesting the Department of Health to
Establish Pesticide Buffer Zones Around Sensitive Areas

and to Establish Disclosure Requirements for Entities that Use Large Quantities of Restricted Use Pesticides

House Committee on Energy & Environmental Protection (EEP) - chair: Chris Lee, vice chair: Nicole E. Lowen

Thursday, March 19, 2015, 8:30 a.m., Room 325

Testifier: Janet F. Mason, Co Chair, Legislative Committee

Click here to view HCR219

Chair Lee, Vice-Chair Lowen, and Committee Members:

The League of Women Voters of Hawaii supports the intent of HCR 219 and offers a suggestion for amending the measure. The League has long supported the promotion of adequate supplies of food and fiber at reasonable prices to consumers. We also support environmentally sound farm practices and reliance on the free market.

Now that the issue of labeling genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has taken center stage in the debate over Hawaii’s agriculture future, it has become evident that the safety of GMOs has been conflated with the issue of pesticides that are applied to the fields. We urge decoupling of this GMO controversy from the issue of the health effects of pesticides.

Our own League membership is struggling to understand whether establishment and implementation of effective buffer zones is possible and whether this could be accomplished without jeopardizing food production in Hawaii. We welcome this resolution as an opportunity to move this important discussion along, because we have already concluded that a bill in this session will not resolve a public debate which could now be characterized as FOOD vs. HEALTH.

Agriculture now accounts for 80% of the pesticide use in the U.S., with synthetic pesticides having dominated conventional agriculture since the1950s. The industry has increasingly relied on pesticide application and management to get the maximum crop production while eliminating unwanted pests and plants. This has brought to the forefront concerns over health effects from workplace pesticide exposure, consumption of pesticide residues in our food and water, and effects on the surrounding environment.

While recent studies have shown that overall pesticide chemical residues found on tested foods are at levels well below the tolerances set by the EPA, it is an incomplete picture of the quantity or the effect of ingested pesticides. The EPA’s tolerance level is based on a risk assessment of a single compound. As there is no limit to the number of different pesticides that can be on food, the risk assessment cannot and does not examine the additive effect of the pesticide under consideration along with presence of other chemicals to which we have been exposed. Nor does the risk assessment evaluate the possible interactive effect of those compounds. Moreover, the tolerance level is established on the active ingredient, though the inert ingredients that dilute and help deliver the pesticide may also be toxic.

This resolution addresses field spraying issues. Because spraying can contaminate water supplies, directly expose farmworkers, adversely affect non-target species, and cause economic damage to certified organic operations, great care must be taken during pesticide application. Our understanding is there are multiple application methods. Through precision technology (using GPS and "smart" sprayers), pesticide use is more precisely directed and the quantity applied can be cut significantly. However, other methods pose more risk of exposure: aerial spraying, air blast (as is used in urban mosquito abatement), and chemigation (application of chemicals through irrigation equipment).

While there are guidelines for aerial spraying, it is difficult to ensure that ideal conditions for spraying are always present. And, based on a laboratory study, we know that spraying may be a method of inadvertently spreading norovirus, the largest cause of foodborne illness.

This is a situation where the average citizen would normally rely on local public health authorities to monitor the human health impacts of pesticide drift, especially near sensitive locations such as schools and hospitals. We do not discount the difficulty in providing effective monitoring, and point out that the Environmental Division of our Health Department is already tasked with hazard evaluation and emergency response, even when there are no environmental standards.

A normal first step in any type of hazard mitigation is identifying the type and location of the source pollutant. With this in mind we think two sections of this resolution requiring that commercial entities and other organizations using large quantities of restricted pesticides outdoors identify application sites are good places to start. The resolution correctly requires disclosure from both the agricultural and non-agricultural sector; this should go a long way toward public perception that food producers are the only potential violators.

Such disclosure implies real-time reporting to the Department of Health. This method may require investment in public health reporting systems, which taxpayers should be prepared to pay for, especially since the effort would be cost-shared with private sector pesticide users. We also point out that such reporting systems would be consistent with providing annual public reports to the Department of Health as required in the resolution.

Likewise, it is entirely reasonable to require large quantity pesticide users to post warnings signs of outdoor applications for the public; the specifics of this requirement should be spelled out by the Health Department.

At this time the League stops short of endorsing the establishment of buffer zones as called for in this resolution because no health standard exists to use as a basis for such restrictions.

We’d sure like the Health Department to collaborate with the Department of Agriculture to propose science-based guidelines. Taking this action would mean the debate could move on, weighing the costs and benefits and generally moving toward some type of community consensus and enhancing pesticide education programs operated by the Department of Agriculture.. We suggest that the resolution be amended to request such proposed guidelines.

Thank you for the opportunity to submit testimony.


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