HONOLULU — Superintendent Christina Kishimoto, after hearing that Roundup was being used on some campuses, sent a memo Tuesday to all principals stressing that herbicides are banned at Hawaii public schools.
She also called for the immediate removal of any herbicides stored at schools.
The action came after a community meeting Monday evening at Leilehua High School called by Board of Education Chairwoman Catherine Payne to hear concerns about the use of herbicides and pesticides at schools. Nearly 60 people attended, including parents, teachers and activists.
Several parents told officials that custodians at some schools are still using the weedkiller Roundup, which contains glyphosate. An agriculture teacher at Leilehua who attended the meeting said she regularly sprayed it around the perimeter of the campus to keep down the weeds.
Parents at the meeting and many others who submitted testimony urged school officials to adopt and enforce a clear policy prohibiting glyphosate-based herbicides such as Roundup on campus.
“What our keiki need is clean food, clean air, clean water,” parent Ku’ike Kamakea-Ohelo said. “Please enforce your policies. That’s what we need. We need policies with teeth.”
Payne and Kishimoto said school custodians have been trained and directed for years not to use herbicides, and they promised to take action.
“We certainly do not want any of these products used on our campuses at any time,” Payne said.
The plaintiff in a landmark California case against Monsanto over the health risks of its herbicides also came to the meeting in Wahiawa to help raise awareness of the issue.
Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, a groundskeeper at a Bay Area school, was awarded $289 million in damages last year by a jury that concluded Monsanto had failed to warn of the dangers of its glyphosate-based weedkillers. The award was later reduced to $78 million by a judge. It is being appealed, so Johnson has not received a payout.
He developed an incurable case of non-Hodgkin lymphoma after extensive exposure to Ranger Pro, a professional-grade herbicide with high levels of glyphosate.
“Why I’m here today is to keep this story going and to keep the word out there about the product that I used and about how unsafe it can be for people and especially kids,” said Johnson, whose trip was sponsored by the Protect Our Keiki coalition.
Kishimoto’s memo went to all superintendents and principals for distribution to agricultural teachers and custodians on each campus.
“This memorandum serves as a reminder that under the Hawaii State Department of Education’s Integrated Pest Management Program, the use of all herbicides is banned on HIDOE campuses,” Kishimoto wrote. “The Integrated Pest Management Program has been providing training for school custodial staff consistent with this policy for the last five years.”
Kishimoto said Monday she would review purchase orders to ensure no herbicides are being bought for use at schools.
Johnson was diagnosed in 2014 with lymphoma, a cancer that originates in the white blood cells, after getting doused when his rig malfunctioned while he was spraying Ranger Pro.
“I was really kind of saturated,” he said. “It fountained into my (protective) suit. … A few months later I started to get signs of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. I had marks all over my body. It spread really fast and got out of control.”
Thousands of lawsuits have been filed against Monsanto, which was acquired last year by German pharmaceutical giant Bayer, over ailments that plaintiffs attribute to its weedkillers. Bayer denies that glyphosate causes cancer, and has been aggressively fighting the cases.
The World Health Organization has described glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic,” but the Environmental Protection Agency considers it safe. EPA said in a news release April 30 that it has found no risk to public health when glyphosate is used properly.