If you’re worried about your children or students being exposed to toxic, cancer-causing pesticides at school, mark your calendars for
Monday June 24, 5p.m. at Leilehua High School in Wahiawa. The Board of Education is hosting a public meeting to get an inside, first person view of the problem, and what can be done to better manage our green spaces without endangering public health. Come, and bring a friend or teacher or student you know.
You will hear from Dewayne “Lee” Johnson from Vallejo, California, here for a visit to the islands as a guest of Hawaiʻi ’s Protect Our Keiki coalition. The visit is part of the coalition’s effort to continue to educate the public, groundskeepers and policy-makers about moving away from carcinogenic pesticides that are currently used year round at great risk to public health.
Johnson was the first to successfully sue, and win, a nearly $300 million award against Monsanto/Bayer. The companies were held responsible for the exposure to Round Up which caused Johnson to fall seriously ill with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was diagnosed with the disease after developing a rash at age 42, following contact with the pesticide that he sprayed regularly as an Integrated Pest Manager in a small school district in the California Bay Area.
ROUNDUP CAUSED HIS CANCER, DESPITE “SAFETY” PROCEDURES
Johnson followed all the safety precautions associated with use of the toxic chemicals he had to mix and spray on the grounds before the children arrived for the start of their school day.
“One of the guys I worked with did not want to wear protective gear, but I told him he had to. You got to be careful with this stuff,” he said. “It’s important for people to know what they are being exposed to, so they can protect themselves,” he warned. Tragically, Johnson was unable to protect himself.
MONSANTO/BAYER GUILTY OF MIS-INFORMATION CAMPAIGN.
A jury found Monsanto/Bayer guilty of failing to warn users like Johnson adequately about the dangers of the products they had to handle daily in the course of their work as groundskeepers. The trial laid bare the company’s efforts to mislead the public through “ghostwritten“ so-called scientific papers that played down safety concerns. It also pointed to the company’s efforts to discredit independent findings about the likely carcinogenic effects of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Round Up.
While still battling the disease, Johnson is determined to be a voice for this issue and use his experience to raise the alarm so that policy-makers will take steps to protect the general public.
Hawaii SEED’s Oahu Volunteer, Mary Lacques laments how long it has taken to enact basic protections, “Hawaii is a stronghold for the agrichemical giants that produce glyphosate and other toxic pesticides. They grow Round Up resistant seed corn for export and experimental pesticides are tested year round. Communities across Hawaii have advocated for decades to enact basic protections from pesticide drift and the migration of pesticides into our water, soil and coastal areas, but it has been an uphill battle,” said Lacques.
Monsanto and the rest of the agrichemical industry have invested heavily in protecting their financial interests in Hawaii, “the fact that in 2014 on Maui alone, Monsanto donated $5M towards the $8M campaign to oppose passage of a county moratorium on pesticide-intensive GMO crops is one indicator of what the community has to contend with to secure the most basic protections. This is the most money per voter ever spent on a policy campaign in Hawaii’s history,” recalls Lauryn Rego, co-director of the Hawaii Center for Food Safety.
To date, dozens of counties and cities including Miami and Los Angeles have already banned herbicides containing glyphosate. Members of the Protect Our Keiki coalition are working to persuade counties across Hawaiʻi and the state Department of Education to join the dozens of other communities that have successfully transitioned to organic land management practices.
The Protect Our Keiki coalition last year helped enact the nation’s first ban on the neurotoxin, chlorpyrifos. (That inspired a renewed Federal effort, still underway, by Senator Brian Schatz to pass a similar ban, modelled on the Hawaiʻi legislation.)
“We want to build on the momentum of last year’s historic success,” said Anne Frederick, Executive Director of the Hawai`i Alliance for Progressive Action (H.A.P.A.) and a key member of the coalition.
“Johnson offers a personal—and painful—perspective on the issue that we hope will help galvanize our elected leaders, and the Board of Education to enact policies that will protect our children and vulnerable populations from the effects of harmful exposure to these toxic chemicals,” she added.
TRANSITIONING FROM TOXIC PESTICIDES MAKES SENSE NOW–AND IN THE LONG RUN
Autumn Ness, the Hawai’i Organic Land Management Program Director for Beyond Pesticides, which has been working since 2017 on transforming the grounds management of five Maui parks, noted:
“Hawai’i has the opportunity at this moment to change direction and adopt a totally new mindset with regard to how we tend our green spaces. We have experts and resources currently available through Beyond Pesticides,” she added. “In the long run, the risk and the cost of continuing to use these proven toxins, is actually much higher than just learning how to go organic.”
“Based on the experience of cities like Irvine in Southern California, we know there is essentially no cost difference to making the transition to safe, organic land management practices. It’s simply a matter of changing your approach,” she noted. Ness is also Co-Director of the Hawaii Center for Food Safety.
In addition to H.A.P.A. and Beyond Pesticides, the Protect Our Keiki coalition includes the Hawai’i Center for Food Safety, Hawai’i SEED, Pesticide Action Network (PAN), Greener Hawai’i, and the Frost Family Foundation.