headshot dec 2011On March 14th, 19 Legislators in the State House of Representatives, including some in leadership, cosponsored HR100 and HCR129 calling for the State Director of Health to head a task force on the effects of atrazine on human health. Atrazine is a toxic, weed-killing pesticide used in Hawai‘i for decades in treating sugarcane, pineapple, and most recently seed corn.

The Atrazine Task Force is charged with reporting its findings, including any proposed legislation, to the State Legislature no later than October 31, 2013.  Legislation resulting from the task force’s recommendations will be considered during the 2014 Legislative Session.

Hawai‘i State Representative Cynthia Thielen, a co-introducer of HR100 and HCR129, said, “It is crucial that the state make every effort to protect our residents, our ‘aina, and our oceans from the potential adverse effects of chronic atrazine exposure. Historically in Hawai‘i, waiting to investigate pesticide or chemical exposure has resulted in needless tragedy and expensive cleanups. We need more information, and the time to do this is now.”

Research has indicated that atrazine exposure may be associated with reproductive problems in men, irregular menstrual cycles in women, and low birth weight and small head circumference in infants.  In laboratory mammals, abnormal reproductive system development, impaired prostate gland formation, and abnormal breast tissue development have also been found. Additionally, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service reported that atrazine may have dangerous effects on fish.

Tests run by the Department of Health repeatedly have shown that Hawai‘i’s drinking water, particularly on the Big Island, is contaminated with low levels of atrazine. A report by the Soil/Water/Air Protection Enterprise indicates that Hawai‘i is ranked tenth among states for the percentage of its population exposed to atrazine in drinking water.

“I understand that the State Department of Agriculture does not test for atrazine because there is a shortage of inspectors. Companies using atrazine in Hawai‘i are policing themselves in regard to EPA application compliance. If we are not testing consistently, then how can we know that these companies are following the EPA prescribed protocols?  The fact that atrazine is banned in Europe due to groundwater contamination risks should be a red flag for all of us,” said Representative Thielen.

Atrazine has been under continued EPA evaluation and is scheduled for a registration review beginning this year.