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EPA sues Syngenta over Kauai incident while company accuses agency of overreach

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Pearl Linton hand-pollinated corn plants at a Syngenta seed farm on Kauai. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is suing Syngenta, accusing them for failing to protect agricultural workers at its crop research farm on Kauai.

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.

7 responses to “EPA sues Syngenta over Kauai incident while company accuses agency of overreach”

  1. reader503 says:

    The article does not include this info that is available on the EPA’s news release, the location is the “crop research farm in Kekaha, Kauai. EPA is seeking civil penalties of over $4.8 million for the violations”. (Maybe they”ll add it later?)

  2. MauiFriend says:

    Sygenta has pretty much admitted to what happened. The problem lies in documenting to what degree it happened since neither the state Department of Agriculture, nor the state Department of Health gathered urine or blood specimens to determine the severity of the contamination. There seems to be insufficient protocols to document these kinds of incidences. The lack of data leaves this case open to all kinds of speculation on both sides.

  3. jcole says:

    Trust the big government workers (who do not profit from a win) over the big capitalist workers who do. Think big tobacco, big coal, big finance, big oil, big health, big marijuana, et al; they lie to save money because their bottom is a buck, not a worker’s health.

  4. Ronin006 says:

    Why is the Environmental Protection Agency involved in this since it has nothing to do with harm to the environment? No harm was done to the environment. The alleged harm was done to workers. It seems to me, therefore, that if a case is to be brought against Syngenta, it should be brought by the Department of Labor.

    • On_My_Turf says:

      EPA is involved because they are in charge of regulating pesticides. Directing workers to enter a sprayed field 4 hours before the specified time interval has elapsed is a violation of Federal law. The documentation accompanying a bottle of chemicals is a Federal legal document. I suspect the EPA got involved because they suspect willful violation of the law.

  5. CubbyFan says:

    I think this is an OSHA problem not an EPA one although lines could be blurred. EPA has bigger fines though usually starting around the $100k point. The state safety folks should be involved.

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