(Beyond Pesticides, May 24, 2017) A Hawai’i woman is suing her former employer, DuPont Pioneer, stating that the company retaliated against her for bringing up concerns over pesticide safety. Shanbnell Grilho, who worked for DuPont Pioneer on Oahu’s North Shore, alleges the company required her to apply hazardous herbicides without the proper training or protection, and ultimately fired her after fabricating allegations against her. This lawsuit is the latest claim against multinational pesticide companies operating in Hawai’i, which have been at the center of local and state-level disputes over their use of toxic pesticides where Hawai’i residents live, work, and play.
In her complaint, Ms. Grilho indicates that she began working at DuPont Pioneer as a temporary employee, during which time she was awarded a raise and named DuPont Pioneer employee of the month. At the time she did not have to apply pesticides. However soon after her award, she was hired as a full time employee and required to work with Roundup, Liberty, and Honcho herbicides, which contain the active ingredients glyphosate, glufosinate, and glyphosate, respectively. “DuPont Pioneer required plaintiff to apply herbicides and biocides while wearing a backpack sprayer, driving an ATV while applying herbicides with a backpack sprayer, and drive while others applied herbicides with a backpack sprayer,” the complaint notes.
Although these applications exposed Ms. Grilho to the aforementioned herbicides, she notes she was denied requests to have the company provide training and personal protective equipment. Her complaint further alleges that DuPont Pioneer reprimanded Ms. Grilho after she moved her coworkers to an area 500’ away from where the herbicide was applied to allow it to dissipate. She indicates she was told not to use two-way radios, where her coworkers may overhear her safety concerns, and only contact her supervisor directly with those concerns.
When Ms. Grilho went above her immediate supervisor to express her worries over working conditions, she was transferred out into crop fields, into a more physically demanding job she alleges was retaliation for her complaints. In the fields, she worked in even closer proximity to pesticide use. As the lawsuit indicates, “[her supervisor] forced plaintiff to work in areas that were supposed to be evacuated because hazardous chemicals had been applied to the area in the past 24 hours.” She again voiced safety concerns, but in response was denied funding of her Education Assistance Program, the lawsuit indicates, in retaliation for her complaints.
After injuring her knee several months later, Ms. Grilho was then terminated by DuPont Pioneer. The complaint alleges that her termination was contrived, that “DuPont Pioneer fabricated her acceptance of long-term disability benefits in retaliation for plantiff’s whistleblowing activities and in an effort to terminate her for those whistleblowing activities.” The suit additionally indicates that Ms. Grilho’s husband, Morgan Armitage, who had worked for the company for 13 years, was fired two months after his wife’s demand letter also in retaliation over her whistleblowing activities.
Stories and lawsuits over pesticide misuse are widespread in the state of Hawai’i. As far back as 2007, chemical companies operating on the islands were accused of dangerous pesticide practices. At that time, a number of incidents at Waimea Canyon Middle School on the island of Kauai led administrators and teachers to sit down with the company Syngenta and secure an agreement not to spray before school was out at 3:30 pm. Syngenta broke that promise, according to Maluhia Group, a coalition of Waimea Canyon Middle School staff, parents and community members. The group recorded the incident in a YouTube video.
In 2015, residents successfully sued DuPont Pioneer over property damage and loss of use and enjoyment of their property after being subject to the incessant blowing of pesticide-laden red dust from the company’s Waimea Research Center field. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently investigating Terminix and Monsanto for repeat violations of pesticide law in Hawai’i. Late last year, Syngenta was fined 4.6 million by EPA after exposing a dozen of its agricultural workers to an unregistered, chlorpyrifos-based pesticide after which they were sent to the hospital.
It is evident that pesticide enforcement in the state is lacking. In addition to the aforementioned investigations and lawsuits, EPA is looking into Hawai’i’s Department of Agriculture over allegations of discrimination against Native Hawaiians as part of their pesticide program.
Community members in Kauai, Maui, and the Big Island’s fight to institute protections from pesticide use resulted in a preemption lawsuit that ultimately struck down their protective local laws. Efforts to move these protections to the state level have been struck down in the state legislature this year, despite strong grassroots support.
Even these state-level efforts would not stop pesticide use, but simply require disclosure of when are where these chemicals are used. Yet the chemical industry has consistently refused to accept any accountability for public outrage over their practices.
As consumers, the best method to eliminate the proliferating use of toxic pesticides is to vote with our wallets. Support a system that does not endanger workers with exposure to hazardous chemicals by seeking out and purchasing only organic foods. Buying organic reduces consumer demand for products which perpetuate the alleged treatment of workers like Ms. Grilho. As the marketplace shifts towards organic, communities, workers, and the wider environment will benefit from safer, sustainable foods.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.
Source: Civil Beat