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Biocide Decisions for Communities Causes Political Suicide


Faith Ewbank, a 48-year resident of Maui, is a mother and grandmother who has testified at many Maui County and Hawaii State hearings. Her interest in island agriculture inspired her recent turn from graphic design to writing.

The recent failures of the Hawai‘i State Legislature have resulted in an elevated reactive public. This last legislative session failed to pass a common sense pesticide disclosure bill, catering to multinational agrochemical companies and absolutely failing to protect local school kids and residents. This is a time wherein Hawai‘i residents sleep with one eye open and it was enough of a reason to raise one’s eyebrows when swift remediation for Rat Lung Worm disease (RLW) began at a rural school on the island of Maui.

The Hawai‘i State Senate majority leader, J. Kalani English, called a meeting with the Department of Health, Department of Agriculture, Department of Land & Natural Resources, and a rat eradication research company, SenesTech. The conversation regarding RLW disease led the Senator to wield his power, directing attention to the school in his home area and District 7, Hana, Maui. (Worthy to note: Hawai‘i Island had been pleading for support for research long before this subject robbed the headlines.)

When asked who might take the lead, all in attendance at the meeting were told by the Senator that his office would have control of the site visit to assess the need to consider application of the indoor-only, Restricted Use Pesticide (RUP), rat sterilization testing at the small K-12 rural school.

Sen. English further conveyed that he was best for the job because he knows his community. For someone who has been known for stressing the importance of upholding cultural protocol however, this decision to lead failed to include common sense consideration for the community, including schoolchildren, teachers, parents, other relatives, local residents, and elected officials.

SenesTech was asked by Sen. English to assess the school’s rat problem with the consideration of using ContraPest, its rat sterilization chemical, to ramp up efforts to eradicate the rodents.  Rats pass larvae of the disease causing Rat Lung Worm (A.cantenosis) through hosts, such as slugs and raw fresh water shrimp to human food.

However, no community members or residents were informed at the time and no official Department of Education or governmental liaison was present during the resulting school assessment.

In response to an early inquiry, the Department of Health provided information that SenesTech had plans to administer the product between June 27th and July 5th. This “just around the corner” time window caused alarm in the small village of Hana, Maui.

In swift reactive mode, questions regarding safety were sent to SenesTech with copies to all district-specific government representatives. In response, a few key community leaders discussed an approach with a 10-day deadline to make sure this was not the choice alternative for rat eradication at Hana school.

Multiple inquiries were made to the makers of the product and several more to elected officials. A slow and incomplete response prompted the hanging of this issue on the social media clothesline. A working group web page garnered 100 members in just two hours and over 200 by the next morning. Everyone in the rural area of Hana wanted to know what had been discussed, planned, and ultimately decided.

SenesTech finally informed reporters and inquiring Hana residents alike that no plans were in motion to administer ContraPest at the Hana school. The school reconnaissance visit found the rat problem insufficient to worthy their aggressive, still-in-research treatment approach. Nevertheless, weary parents did their own research and inquired further.

All publicly-traded companies must file a quarterly report with the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). The last quarterly report filed by SenesTech stated, “Projects are in operation in Hawai‘i.”  So, if not Hana, then where?

In the absence of answers to serious questions regarding the safety of ContraPest, a flight to Flagstaff, Arizona was made for a fly-in, face-to-face meeting with the Vice President of Business Operations, Ali Allpin, and the VP of Scientific Operations, Brandi Pyzna. During the meeting, SenesTech confirmed the SEC mention of projects in operation in Hawai‘i refers to a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense at the O‘ahu, Hawai‘i military outpost to administer ContraPest on the outskirts of the base.

SenesTech also shared that discussions with their company regarding alternatives to the Lehua island “aerial drop” plan included conversations about using ContraPest.

This so-called RUP is not a restricted use pesticide; it is a biocide that was curiously fast-tracked through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Serious health and safety-related conversations continue and will be pressed in the 2018 Hawai‘i legislature and elections.

The lesson here can’t be any clearer – legislators without sufficient advanced education and training should never present themselves as qualified to exercise scientific expertise, nor decide, for a whole, on a subject of this magnitude. This has been poorly exercised on the islands of Kaua‘i with Syngenta occupation, Moloka‘i island and Maui with the voter ballot initiative to end the occupation of Monsanto’s Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) and the consequent pesticide cocktails that drift over all of us in Hawai‘i. The audacity of this move does not confirm what we are already know; it catapults concern into an arena of activist gladiators.

The failed pesticide disclosure bill looms over parents’ trust levels as a new school season begins; strengthening home rule is in motion. Maui County Council members have been asked to gather district-specific legislative representatives to sign a Memorandum Of Understanding affirming that when any RUPs are considered at any locale where children learn or play, the district-specific representative Council member will be informed.

This action-step by parents, grandparents, and teachers has been prompted by low trust levels. The citizen regulatory move was inspired by the poor practices of the massively dysfunctional Hawai‘i state legislature and its seeming inability to manage sensitive safety subjects.

Career advice to Hawai‘i state legislators who comport themselves as if possessing scientific expertise regarding biocides, might you take caution.

See: SenesTech ContraPest Questions & Answers

Note: It took SenesTech 10+ weeks to provide answers to written questions.

Subject-related film, excellent classroom piece: ‘Aina, That Which Feeds Us – 23 minutes ($2.99 rent or $4.99 buy)


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