U.S.: EPA alleges Syngenta violated Hawaiian farmworker safety
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has filed a complaint alleging that Syngenta Seeds violated federal pesticide regulations meant to protect agricultural workers at its crop research farm in Kauai, Hawaii.
The organization said it was seeking civil penalties of more than US$4.8 million from the Switzerland-headquartered agribusiness.
It said that on Jan. 20, 2016, 19 workers entered a Syngenta field recently sprayed with a restricted use organophosphate insecticide, and ten of these workers were taken to a nearby hospital for medical treatment.
Restricted use pesticides are not available to the general public because of their high toxicity, potential for harm and impact on the environment, it added.
“Reducing pesticide exposure is a high priority, as it directly affects the health of farmworkers,” EPA Pacific Southwest regional administrator Alexis Strauss said.
“EPA is committed to enforcing the federal law that protects those who spend long hours in the fields. We appreciate working with the Hawaii Department of Agriculture to respond to this serious incident.”
The company named in the complaint does business as Syngenta Hawaii, LLC., a subsidiary of global chemical and seed enterprise Syngenta AG.
The EPA complaint alleges that Syngenta misused the pesticide “Lorsban Advanced” and failed in its duties to adequately implement the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act’s Worker Protection Standard.
Specifically, EPA is accusing Syngenta of failing to notify its workers to avoid fields recently treated with pesticides.
"The company then allowed or directed workers to enter the treated field before the required waiting period had passed, and without proper personal protective equipment," the EPA claimed.
"After the workers’ exposure, Syngenta failed to provide adequate decontamination supplies onsite and failed to provide prompt transportation for emergency medical attention."
The EPA said an inspector from the Hawaii Department of Agriculture (HDOA) was present at the Syngenta facility when the exposure incident occurred, prompting the state’s immediate investigation.
In March, HDOA referred the matter to EPA for follow-up investigation and enforcement and the following month EPA inspectors conducted a series of inspections, which led to the complaint.
The active ingredient in “Lorsban Advanced” is chlorpyrifos, which in small amounts may cause a runny nose, tears, sweating, or headache, nausea and dizziness. More serious exposures can cause vomiting, muscle twitching, tremors and weakness. Sometimes people develop diarrhea or blurred vision.
In severe cases, exposure can lead to unconsciousness, loss of bladder and bowel control, convulsions, difficulty in breathing, and paralysis. Symptoms can appear within minutes and may last days or weeks.