Monsanto Guilty of Spraying Banned Pesticide on Maui Fields

Company to pay up $10.2 million in fines for the spraying and for illegally storing hazardous waste.

In a plea agreement submitted to the Honolulu district court on November 21, Monsanto-Bayer pleaded guilty to illegally spraying one of the world’s most toxic pesticides, methyl parathion, in Maui in 2014, six months after the US Environmental Protection Agency banned it. In addition, the company admitted to using the pesticide in a manner that endangered the lives of the field workers who did the spraying. It was also found guilty of illegally storing, transporting and disposing of the chemical after the ban.

photo of Maui fields
Monsanto continued applying methyl parathion on two acres of corn research crops for months after a ban on the highly toxic pesticide went into effect. Photo by Forest and Kim Starr.

The US Department of Justice proposed having company, which is now a unit of Bayer AG, pay a $6.2 million criminal fine and $4 million in community service payments to various government entities. (Monsanto’s 2018 profits were $2.2 billion on revenues of $14.6 billion). The proposal, however, did not impose personal fines or prison sentences on any Monsanto employees.

“The government agreed to dismiss the felony charges in two years if Monsanto abides by the agreement, which includes … maintaining a comprehensive environmental compliance program at all of its facilities in Hawaii to ensure compliance with all federal environmental laws,” a Department of Justice statement explained.

Asked by e-mail if that meant Bayer, which bought Monsanto last year, would stop spraying pesticides in the Mokulele Farm just upwind from the Kamalani development, or at least in the parts of the farm closest to the homes, Bayer spokesman Jeffrey Donald did not reply.

The World Health Organization’s identifies methyl parathion as an “extremely hazardous” pesticide.

Organophosphates (OPs) are the main components of herbicides and insecticides, and methyl parathion “is the most hazardous OP allowed in the US food supply,” the Environmental Working Group reported in 1999. “It is a potent neurotoxic agent that kills bugs by disrupting vital transmitters in their nervous systems. The pesticide works the same way in people.”

Toxic Drift

In Hawai‘i, an epicenter of GM corn testing, pesticide poisoning complaints persist.

In the report, the Washington-based organization urged the EPA “to ban this highly toxic pesticide” because it’s so toxic to children that the smallest detectable amount on, for example, an apple, is already unsafe.

“An estimated 320,000 children between the ages of one and five years old eat an unsafe dose of methyl parathion in their food every day,” report said. “Some apples and peaches are so contaminated that just two bites (4 to 7 grams) are unsafe for children under age six.”

The EPA took no action to ban the pesticide for nearly two decades after the report was published.

In March 2010, according to the justice department filing, the companies that made the methyl parathion sold in the US, under the label Penncap-M, voluntarily stopped producing it.

In July 2010, the EPA announced it was pulling its license and effectively banning the chemical. But it allowed companies to keep on distributing it until August 31, 2013, and it let end-users keep on spraying it until the end of 2013.

Monsanto continued applying methyl parathion on its Maui fields throughout 2013. In July 2014, over six months after the ban went into effect, according to the Justice Department document, “Monsanto knowingly sprayed Penncap-M on two acres of corn research crops at its Valley Farm location on Maui,” near one of the island’s main thoroughfares, Veterans’ Highway, in Kihei, about five miles north of the Kamalani development.

In addition, even though the label on the chemical — which has the force of law — said workers should wait a month before entering a sprayed field, Monsanto admitted to ordering its workers to enter the Kihei plot a week after the spraying.

The document does not specify whether, in the four years following the spraying, the workers who went back into the field had suffered any discernible health impacts.

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