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Why oh Kauai?

GMO giants’ pesticide use threatens rare Hawaiian species

Hawaiian honeycreeper
U.S. Geological Survey
An endangered Hawaiian honeycreeper.

WAIMEA, HAWAII -- Given its fragile and unusually rich ecology, the Hawaiian island of Kauai seems ill-suited as a site for agricultural experiments that use heavy amounts of toxic chemicals. But four transnational corporations -- BASF Plant Science, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont Pioneer, and Syngenta -- have been doing just those kinds of experiments here for about two decades, extensively spraying pesticides on their GMO test fields. As a result, the landscape on the southwest corner of the island, around the town of Waimea, has become one of the most toxic chemical environments in all of American agriculture.

This poses serious risks for the people of Kauai, as I've documented, but even less noticed are the hazards posed to the unique flora and fauna of the island and the coral reefs just off its shores. Each of the seven highly toxic pesticides most commonly used by the GMO giants on Kauai (alachlor, atrazine, chlorpyrifos, methomyl, metolachlor, paraquat, and permethrin) is known to be toxic to wildlife, plants, or both.

Lysimachia daphnoides
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
An endangered flowering plant on Kauai: Lysimachia daphnoides, aka Pacific loosestrife.

The isolated geography of Kauai has fostered the evolution of a great diversity of birds, bugs, and plants. Kauai has more unique species -- species that live only on the island -- than anywhere else in the world, said Carl Berg, an ecologist and long-time advocate for clean water with the Kauai chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. Berg and others fear that these endemic species are being put at great risk of extinction by exposure to the chemicals, though he says he has no idea the extent of the damage.

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The Kauai Cocktail

GMO companies are dousing Hawaiian island with toxic pesticides

The Waimea River.
Patsy Nitta

WAIMEA, HAWAII -- The island of Kauai, Hawaii, has become Ground Zero in the intense domestic political battle over genetically modified crops. But the fight isn't just about the merits or downsides of GMO technology. It's also about regular old pesticides.

The four transnational corporations that are experimenting with genetically engineered crops on Kauai have transformed part of the island into one of most toxic chemical environments in all of American agriculture.

For the better part of two decades, BASF Plant Science, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont Pioneer, and Syngenta have been drenching their test crops near the small town of Waimea on the southwest coast of Kauai with some of the most dangerous synthetic pesticides in use in agriculture today, at an intensity that far surpasses the norm at most other American farms, an analysis of government pesticide databases shows.

Each of the seven highly toxic chemicals most commonly used on the test fields has been linked to a variety of serious health problems ranging from childhood cognitive disorders to cancer. And when applied together in a toxic cocktail, their joint action can make them even more dangerous to exposed people.