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Chemical Herbicide Concerns

The safety of glyphosate herbicides (one common brand name is Roundup) and others used by the county became a much-discussed topic after a visit to Hawaii in June by Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, who won the first lawsuit against Monsanto after contracting non-Hodgkins lymphoma from exposure to glyphosate as a school groundskeeper.

Johnson spoke with Hawaii County Department heads, and then at a community meeting in Oahu voicing concerns about the use of herbicides and pesticides by the DOE. Afterwards, Board of Education superintendent Christina Kishimoto announced an immediate halt to use of chemical pesticides and herbicides on Hawaii school campuses.

Children have unique susceptibilities to the potential toxicity of herbicides, yet they are still being exposed every day when they go to county parks or walk or ride along the roads.

“Evidence demonstrates associations between early life exposure to pesticides and pediatric cancers, decreased cognitive function, and behavioral problems,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

According to a factsheet from NCAP (Northwest Coalition from Alternatives to Pesticides), acute symptoms of exposure to glyphosate include eye irritation, burning eyes, blurred vision, skin rashes, burning or itchy skin, nausea, sore throat, asthma and difficulty breathing, headache, lethargy, nose bleeds, and dizziness.

Long-term exposure is linked with increased risks of cancer including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, miscarriages, attention deficit disorder and reduced production of sex hormones. A newly published study in Frontiers in Genetics shows that a very low concentration of glyphosate (in the parts per trillion range and thus environmentally relevant for everyone) can trigger aggressive breast cancer when combined with other risk factors.

What does glyphosate do to our fragile environment? Studies indicate that it can contaminate streams, which empty into our oceans, and affect sea life including fish and coral. Problems with drift of glyphosate herbicides occur frequently.

What do those opposed to the bill fear? The cost. The notion that the county cannot afford alternatives to Roundup has proven false time and again. Efforts to "green" Hawaii's parks and roadsides began in the 1990's with five trial oceanfront parks in Hilo and 20 miles of roads. They were manually maintained, which required some volunteer help in the beginning, but cost less in the long run.

This past July, 3C Goat Grazing was hired by the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation under a pilot project to clear brush at the Hilo Soccer Field. Officials were impressed with the results and the price – less than the cost of regular maintenance, said 3C’s Mark Crivello.

There will be less worry about the health of the island and the people, children, pets and wildlife here if Rebecca Shute-Villegas’ Bill 101 to limit the county’s use of chemical herbicides is approved by the County Council.

District 7 Councilwoman Villegas is introducing the bill on Tuesday, Oct. 15, to the Committee of Agricultural, Water, Energy and Environmental Management. If approved in committee, the bill will move forward for a full vote.

The bill would prohibit the use of toxic pesticides and herbicides on all county-owned parks, roads, bikeways, sidewalks, trails, drainage ways, and waterways. It allows for a 4-year transition period, and establishes a Vegetation Management Transition Committee to guide the conversion to organic practices. The bill does not apply to private property, such as farms, homes and resorts.

During the transition period, steps will be required to reduce the use of prohibited herbicides, all label instructions will need to be adhered to, and notification of herbicide use will be improved.

“Working collaboratively with the Dept of Public Works, Dept of Parks & Rec, Dept of Environmental Management, and the Mayor’s Office, I am honored to bring forth this legislation that will require and facilitate Hawaii County’s transition to new and safer technologies to maintain our parks and roadways,” said Villegas. “While I have the privilege of presenting this legislation, credit must be given to former County Councilwoman, Jennifer Ruggles, and her Legislative Aid, Blake Watson, for its inception. Please come and share your support of Bill 101. Your voice makes a difference.”

The public is invited to attend and testify in person at the Hilo Council Chambers located at 25 Aupuni Street or by video conference from the Kona Council Chambers and locations in Kohala, Waimea, Ka’u and Pahoa. Following public testimony, Beyond Pesticides will provide a 45-minute presentation on the issues associated with current herbicide use and the alternatives available.

For those who can’t attend in person, they can email their testimony regarding Bill 101 to by noon October 14th.

Read Bill 101at

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