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County Council to consider ban on pesticide

A bill banning the use of glyphosate-based pesticides at some Hawaii County facilities will taken up today by County Council members.

Bill 91, introduced by Kona Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas, is intended to reduce the use of the broad-spectrum systemic herbicide by county workers at Hawaii County Parks and Recreation facilities across the Big Island. Exempt from the ban would be the Hilo Municipal Golf Course, Hilo Drag Strip and all county cemeteries.

The Climate Resilience and Natural Resource Management Committee will take up the measure during its meeting at 2 p.m. today at the West Hawaii Civic Center in Kailua-Kona. The meeting is closed to the public due to the COVID-19 pandemic but will be livestreamed at hawaiicounty.gov.

As of press-time dozens of people had submitted testimony on the bill, including more than 60 writing in support of the measure.

“You, as a Council, have the opportunity to put Hawaii island on the map as a forward thinking, environmentally aware community,” Kris Bordessa in support of the proposed measure. “The damage to the environment by these pesticides can and should be prevented everywhere, but in the short term, let’s get this poison out of the areas where our keiki and community members gather.”

The county currently uses glyphosate-based pesticides to control vegetation in public parks, fields, bikeways, sidewalks, trails, drainageways, and waterwways, as well as along fence lines and roads. It is the most widely used herbicide in the U.S., commonly sold under the brand name Roundup.

The chemical was declared a probable carcinogen by the World Health Organization in 2015, and in 2017, California declared it a carcinogen. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, however, has made a different determination, ruling in April 2019 that glyphosate, the most widely used herbicide in the U.S., doesn’t cause cancer when used as directed.

“The routine use of this substance has the potential to subject County workers, the pbulic, and wildlife to a high risk of exposure tol this dnagerous chemical. This ordinance is intended to reduce the use in County parks and recreational facilities of a checmial that has been linked with increased incidence of leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” the bill reads, after noting that juries have awarded several judgments against a manufactuer “totaling over $2 billion in damages resulting from the adverse effects of these products.”

The ordinance would not prohibit the use of glyphosate-based herbicides by persons other than the county. The product’s use on private land would also remain lawful, including parcels adjacent to a county road or easement.

The bill also calls for the posting of temporary signage at parks and recreational facilities when any other synthethic pesticide is being applied. That signage must include the name of the pesticide used and location of application.

Bill 91 marks the second attempt by Villegas to ban the use of herbicides in county parks.

In 2019, Bill 101, which would have phased out the use of Roundup and 29 other herbicides in parks and alongside roads, bike-ways, sidewalks, trails, drainage-ways and waterways owned or maintained by the county, was passed by the County Council.

Then-Mayor Harry Kim subsequently vetoed the measure, noting concerns about regulatory questions over whether it’s the federal, state or local government’s jurisdiction, as well as operational and cost concerns in changing how the county handles weeds. An attempt by the County Council to override Kim’s veto was unsuccessful because a super majority of six votes was needed.

Had the bill become law, Hawaii County would have been the first local government in the state to do so.

“We need this much overdue and common sense legislation to please be passed at once. It is truly a shame our previous administration wasn’t in support and that we have to waste our Councilmembers, Council staff, and the public’s valuable time and money covering this issue yet, again,” wrote Shannon Matson in testimony.

If Bill 91 is forwarded with a favorable recommendation to the full County Council it must then undergo two readings, and if passed there, goes to the mayor for his signature.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Villegas said of the bill passing and becoming law, noting that she worked with the administration to find something “palatable” and “executable.”

As written, the ordinance would take effect at the start of the next fiscal year, July 1, 2022.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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