The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is suing a Kauai seed company over the protection of agricultural workers at its crop research farm in connection with a medical emergency in January when 10 people were treated at a hospital.
The EPA claims Syngenta Seeds, LLC, doing business as Syngenta Hawaii LLC, failed to notify workers to avoid cornfields that had been sprayed with a restricted-use pesticides.
On Jan. 20, 19 workers entered a field that had recently been sprayed with an insecticide containing chlorpyrifos. Ten workers were taken to a hospital for treatment.
“The company … allowed or directed workers to enter the treated field before the required waiting period had passed and without proper personal protective equipment. After the workers’ exposure, Syngenta failed to provide adequate decontamination supplies onsite and failed to provide prompt transportation for emergency medical treatment,” said the EPA in a news release from the agency’s Hawaii office.
An inspector from the state Department of Agriculture was at the Syngenta site when workers were exposed. The state launched an investigation and referred the matter to EPA.
Chlorpyrifos can cause nausea, dizziness and headache in small amounts. Exposure to higher amounts can cause individuals to suffer tremors, muscle twitching and breathing difficulty, according to the EPA news release.
In an emailed statement from Syngenta, spokesman Paul Minehart said the company is disappointed the EPA has filed a complaint as Syngenta has been working with the EPA on its investigation. “Syngenta has taken responsibility in this matter. No workers were injured in the incident,” the statement said.
Minehart added that the company believes EPA is not accurately describing what happened and is “overreaching its authority with this enforcement, lacking precedent and disregarding its own policies and regulations.”
According to the company, approximately 19 workers entered a cornfield about 20 hours after the field was sprayed with chlorpyrifos. The wait time to reenter the field is 24 hours.
Minehart said, “In short a supervisor realized the error and had the workers leave the field. All of the workers washed their hands and took showers after exiting the area,” said Minehart in the news release. Ten of the 19 workers were taken to the hospital to be examined.
Most of the workers returned to work the next day and three stayed at the hospital overnight for observation. Minehart said all 10 workers returned to work the following Monday.