“No Farms, No Food,” says a bumper sticker on the back of a car in a local parking lot. “Keep the Country COUNTRY!” implores another sticker on another car. “Buy Local, it Matters,” advises yet another. Everyone, it seems, appreciates the natural beauty of rural Oahu and wants more locally grown, fresh food from these agricultural lands.
These days, there is also a heightened concern of pesticide use. Are we in danger from general use or restricted use pesticides on agricultural land? Are we in danger from pesticides applied in and around our homes? Who looks into this and who is responsible for protecting our health? We recently held a series of Town Hall Meetings to bring state officials out to answer public questions about these issues.
The term pesticide refers to all substances and actions used to kill pests, including insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, rodenticides, miticides and other “-cides,” Cida is the Latin term for killer. If you spray your yard or house to control ticks, fleas, mosquitos, ants, termites, flies, weeds, mold or many other “pests,” you are applying a pesticide. These products are meant to kill things and they can be dangerous to your health and to the environment if you do not follow the instructions on the label.
Yes, it is a pain to read the long, boring labels, but it is wrong to misapply or apply too much of these products. Trust the label; if it says one squirt on the leaf will do the trick, do not squeeze out three shots.
In the same way, agricultural and other commercial operations are required to follow the labeled instructions of every pesticide they use. As Tom Matsuda, the Dept. of Agriculture’s Pesticide Program Manager, is fond of saying, “The label is the law.” By this, he means that the EPA, after extensive research, has approved each product to be used only as described on the label. It is illegal to use a pesticide in ways that have not been permitted by the EPA.
According to Mr. Matsuda, the EPA must ensure with a reasonable certainty that no harm will result from the legal use of a pesticide product before it can be registered. This is done by reviewing data from more than 100 toxicology and environmental studies that meet standards with respect to risks, potential risks, and benefits of the pesticide. EPA initiates a re-registration process to review the data every 15 years, or sooner with a special review process, if health or environmental concerns arise.
Mr. Matsuda pointed out that the EPA’s evaluation process considers the toxicity of short (acute) and long term (chronic) exposure concerning potential human health risks. Risk to farm workers, non-farm workers, the environment are all scientifically assessed. Provisions for protecting infants and children and other sensitive sub-populations are also analyzed.
Before a pesticide is approved for use in Hawaii, our Dept. of Agriculture conducts additional reviews to ensure compliance with state laws and regulations. If the product contains a chemical new to the state, the department conducts a groundwater review to determine “leachability” of chemical.