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The days of plausible deniability are over

If you are an administrator, public or private, you are liable for the workplace practices that occur under your supervision or authority. Likewise, if you are an employer, public or private, you are responsible for the actions and inactions of your administrators/managers.

If I am talking like a lawyer, it’s because the lawyers are indeed talking. If you are an employer, public or private, it’s probably a good idea that you start listening.

There are now three separate court decisions against Monsanto/Bayer concluding that “RoundUp” (a glyphosate based product), has caused or significantly contributed to the development of cancer (non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) in the plaintiffs who brought suit.

Three separate judges, three separate juries, three separate sets of circumstances, four different plaintiffs — all yielding the same or similar conclusion.

The most recent decision awarded two plaintiffs over $1 billion apiece. Granted that amount will likely be reduced upon appeal, but even the lowest award in the three cases cited exceeds $78 million.

News reports indicate over 13,000 (and counting) additional plaintiffs have filed similar lawsuits against Monsanto, alleging their products cause non-Hodgkin lymphoma and that the company has hidden the risks.

It’s only a matter of time, until plaintiffs attorneys shift their gaze to large employers that knew or should have known about the danger these chemicals posed to their employees and the public.

One would hope that public/private “risk reduction managers”are taking notice, and taking action. Even if the mayor, the council, legislators and the governor are still living in the dark ages and believe that “there is nothing wrong with RoundUp” and thus are not concerned about worker safety or the public’s health, one would think they would at least worry about the financial exposure.

Faced with a relentless flow of science (and court cases) pointing to the health risks of various toxic herbicides and pesticides used or regulated by their administration, history will show they were proactive and erred on the side of protecting the health of their workers and the public – or that they put the interests of big business and corporate profits first and foremost.

The state of Hawaii and the various counties use large amounts of RoundUp and related products daily for “weed control” along highways AND in our public schools and parks.

How many gallons or pounds of herbicide is used in Hawaii is anyone’s guess because the state does not require the reporting of glyphosate or RoundUp related products. I repeat, the state has no clue how much is used, purchased or sold in Hawaii. This fact alone, to me anyway (and possibly to a jury in the future), demonstrates gross negligence on the state’s part.

The state attorney general and county legal advisers are also no doubt, aware of the three separate court cases and of the 13,000 (and counting) plaintiffs who are waiting for their turn.

If they are fulfilling their fiduciary duty, the state and county legal advisers have informed the governor and the mayor of the existence of the legal issue and potential liability.

Perhaps a legislator or councilmember has requested a formal legal opinion (or not), asking the attorney general to opine as to the state or County liability for failure to protect its workers and the public from the widespread use of these products on public lands and around public facilities (thinks schools, parks, walking paths etc).

If such a legal opinion were provided, I suspect it would show that in light of the recent court developments, it is in the best interest of both the state and the counties to eliminate and/or severely reduce the use of these chemicals.

Action to reduce or eliminate the use of herbicides can be taken by the rank and file managers, their supervisors and department and division heads today without the need for a change in the law. Labor unions can also demand today greater protections for their workers.

Principals, individual teachers and parents can and should engage this conversation and request an elimination of the use of herbicides on school grounds today.

Ultimately our political leaders must take action. But even without their action, the problem can be solved today — but the public must write the letters, make the calls and demand action.

The days of plausible deniability are over.


Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.

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