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Maui Agencies Discuss Pesticide-Free Land Management with Historic Plaintiff

June 18, 2019
Center for Food Safety

From L to R: Autumn Ness, Hawai'i Center for Food Safety/Beyond Pesticides; Duane Sparkman, Organic Landscaper; DeWayne Lee Johnson. Photo credit: Chelsie Machado. 

Maui Agencies Discuss Pesticide-Free Land Management with Historic Plaintiff

Wailuku, Hawaii—Yesterday, DeWayne "Lee" Johnson was on Maui to meet with government land management agencies and various county and state policy-makers. Johnson worked as a groundskeeper in a school district in the California Bay Area, where he developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma from work-related use of the pesticide Roundup. He is the first plaintiff to win a suit brought against Monsanto/Bayer, the company that makes Roundup. The agrochemical giant was held liable and ordered to pay Johnson nearly $300 million, which was later reduced to $78 million.

Hawai'i's Protect Our Keiki coalition hosted a small, intimate discussion with Johnson on Monday as part of a continuing effort to reduce the amount of pesticides used on the Islands. There are growing concerns about the risks those chemicals pose to public health and our fragile island environment.

"It's important for people to know this stuff, to know about what they're being exposed to. If people have that information, they can make choices; they can be informed and protect themselves," Johnson said. "I'm just a regular guy, from a small town called Vallejo, who happened to seek the truth about my failing health and found answers. I think people are starting to see that there is something going on with this product. I'm living proof of that. I'm the weed that didn't die."

In response to local concerns about pesticide safety, the Maui County Parks Department implemented a 5-site Pesticide Free Parks Pilot program in 2016. The department is currently seeking to expand the program, with support and training from local, organic landscapers.

The event also featured Duane Sparkman, a local, organic landscaper from the Westin Ka'anapali. "If we have a chance to make a positive change for the health and well-being of our people and environment, why not push for that change?" Sparkman asked. "There are alternatives to pesticides. Reach out to us and ask questions. Be part of the change and share the knowledge. Your friends, family, and garden will appreciate it," he added.

Over 40 counties, cities, and school districts—including Miami, Irvine, and Los Angeles—have already implemented bans on Roundup or on all synthetic pesticides. Members of the Protect Our Keiki coalition are working to persuade counties across Hawai'i as well as the state Department of Education to join them.

Maui County Council member Shane Sinenci says that he plans to introduce a bill doing just that.

"We now know the human and environmental dangers of using toxic pesticides and herbicides. We have the ability to use sustainable practices and environmentally-friendly pest and weed control. This approach can be very effective and cost efficient," Sinenci said. "This summer, I will be working with the Department of Public Works and the Department of Parks and Recreation to finalize the bill. I feel encouraged that we are able to work together to do what is responsible for the environment, county workers, and residents."

Autumn Ness, Hawai'i Center for Food Safety co-director and the Hawai'i Organic Land Management program director for Beyond Pesticides pointed out that there is no better time than now to make the transition from cancer-causing pesticides to an organic approach using alternative methods and resources.

"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 available to us through the Maui Pilot Project with Beyond Pesticides," Ness noted. "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 added.

The Protect Our Keiki coalition includes the Hawai'i Center for Food Safety, the Hawai'i Alliance for Progressive Action, Beyond Pesticides, Hawai'i SEED, Pesticide Action Network, and the Frost Family Foundation.

Johnson will also be speaking at a few other intimate gatherings around Hawai?i, and at a Board of Education hearing on the use of pesticides in schools. The Board of Education hearing will take place on June 24 at 5:00 pm at Leilehua High School, and is open to the public.

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