My Turn: Share your thoughts on herbicide bill

On Wednesday, Jan. 8, the Hawaii County Council with the public’s help, will seek to override Mayor Harry Kim’s veto of Bill 101 that would prohibit the use of toxic herbicides on county owned parks and roadways.

Bill 101 only applies to herbicide use by the county on county-owned lands, and allows for herbicide use on county-owned agricultural lands that are leased to private individuals. It also allows for herbicide use by entities like Big Island Invasive Species Committee, even on county owned lands, as BIISC employees are not “the county.” Private users may continue to use these products.

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Public testimony will begin at 9 a.m. in the Hilo Council Chambers, but testifiers can also share their manao from the Kona Council Chambers (WHCC), the Naalehu State Office Building, the Old Kohala Courthouse, and the Pahoa Council Office. If you cannot support this Bill in person you may submit your testimony to counciltestimony@hawaiicounty.gov

Why is this bill important?

For the past 30-plus years, many different groups and individuals from Hawaii Island have worked to ban county herbicide spraying along roadsides and in parks. More than years of research has informed us that herbicides kill things, and not just plants. Herbicides kill soil microorganisms and negatively affect human health.

Our environment is one of the primary effectors of human health. What we do in the public areas affects not just the county workers who are spraying, but everyone who lives nearby or uses the space.

According to Bayer Chemical Company, the new owner of Monsanto, there are now more than 43,000 individual plaintiffs in the Round-up/glyphosate lawsuits and the liability continues to grow.

Although Mayor Kim said in his veto letter, “The County does not have the level of expertise to identify herbicides as causing ‘high risk of exposure,’ as ‘dangerous chemicals’ or as ‘harmful chemicals,’ the County doesn’t need to be the expert. They can read the research and the conclusions of qualified experts such as the World Health Organizations International Agency for Research on Cancer and the US Department of Health and Human Services US National Toxicology Program that both label glyphosate as a ‘probable human carcinogen.’”

Mayor Kim also said that the bill disregards national (EPA) and state (Hawaii Department of Agriculture) regulations in place to ensure the safety of people who use herbicides and well as those who work and play in areas where herbicides are used. There may be regulations in place under EPA or HDOA for “safe use” but neither of these organizations has the capacity or staff to monitor herbicide spraying in the county.

Recently, the Department of Education banned the use of herbicides on all school campuses in the state to protect the health of the children. Also this year, Seattle, Miami, Austin, and Los Angeles approved their own bans on city property so we are not alone!

I worked with the Kona Outdoor Circle in the 1980s when they tried to ban the roadway spraying of herbicides. We brought in a hot water treatment truck from New Zealand and gave a demonstration for the county, only to be told that it didn’t economically pencil out.

While there are no easy solutions, there are solutions and when this bill is passed, it will give the county a three-year period for the transition team to create a new strategy for a safer way to care for roadsides, parks and streams.

A Vegetation Management Transition Committee will be established to monitor, educate and assist county staff and the public about alternative weed management practices.

If you have experience or knowledge in one of the following fields, please consider applying to sit on this committee: Native Hawaiian plants, tropical horticulture, agroforestry, silviculture, organic landscape, permaculture, natural farming or weed science.

Applications will be taken at a later time, but if you want to send a quick email to the County Council letting them know what skills you have to offer, it might let them and the departments know just how many resources we have on island to support the departments through this transition. You can send an email of your interest to counciltestimony@hawaiicounty.gov

I am sure that a safer and more healthy way forward can be accomplished.

But first, the county and enough citizens must have the will to create this opportunity through testimony. Once the new direction is clear, the right information will become available.

I am certain that other islands are watching this bill and are anxious to see what we will do.

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Bill 101 is a necessary step for the future health of our people to lessen liability for the county and county workers and begin to create the protocols for a new direction for land management that takes into consideration the health of the people and the aina.

Nancy Redfeather is a resident of Honalo.