The pesticide enforcement news today is surreal.
Reuters reports on February 15, 2018 that Amazon is paying a $1.2 million fine, because a third-party vendor offering pesticides on Amazon slipped in some foreign-made products not registered by the U.S. EPA. Clearly illegal, clearly a slip up, which Amazon corrected immediately, and forcefully, as clear in the Reuters reporting.
And in the case of Amazon and its $1.2 million fine, zero evidence of willful wrongdoing or neglect, and fortunately, no reported incidents of people or the environment suffering as a result.
A very different story line has unfolded in a long-standing, pesticide poisoning enforcement case against the global pesticide-biotech company Syngenta, recently acquired by ChemChina.
On January 20, 2016, 10 workers on a Syngenta biotech-seed farm in Kauai entered a corn field recently sprayed with the very high-risk organophosphate (OP) insecticide chlorpyrifos (Lorsban). The workers had to go to the hospital. The Honolulu Star Advertiser ran a story on the episode December 15, 2016 entitled “EPA sues Syngenta over Kauai incident while company accuses agency of overreach.”
People were harmed, three hospitalized. These pesticides are known to be harmful. In this case, the poisoning episode happened because of neglect and negligence on behalf of people spraying chlorpyrifos on Syngenta seed fields, but then not placing the required warning signs to keep other people from entering the fields until “safe” to do so.
In short, Syngenta was running a farm with exceptionally high and risky pesticide use, day in and day out, and failed to pay attention to details essential to prevent everyday pesticide use from triggering an everyday poisoning episode.
The Obama EPA pursued an enforcement action against Syngenta including a $4.9 million fine, but sensing the prospect of a better deal under a Trump-led EPA, Syngenta backed away from a settlement agreement that was close to final as the transition approached.
And indeed Syngenta was right, and amply rewarded for its patience.
This week, EPA announced “settlement” of the enforcement Kauai case. Syngenta will pay a $150,000 fine, and commit to $400,000 in worker training that they are obligated to do anyway, and had failed to adequately carry out in 2015-2016.
That is a 97% reduction in the fine — from $4.9 million to $150,000. What a deal, and regretfully, how predictable.
Another story in today’s Honolulu Star Advertiser story reports on the reaction to this development.
When the rule of law, fairness, and common sense become so fundamentally detached, it is natural for people to lose confidence in their government. Some people get mad. A few try to do something about it.
The monumental unfairness in the way Amazon and Syngenta have fared at the hands of the EPA’s pesticide enforcement division will almost certainly register on far too few radar screens to amount to anything other than another good day for a powerful pesticide company. What a shame.
Reuters Staff, February 15, 2018. “Amazon to pay $1.2 million settlement over pesticide sales, U.S. says.”
Aubrey McAvoy, Associated Press, Honolulu Star Advertiser, February 16, 2018. “Critics cry foul after EPA reduces Syngenta fine for Kauai pesticide violations.”
Star Advertiser Staff, Honolulu Star Advertiser, December 15, 2016. “EPA sues Syngenta over Kauai incident while company accuses agency of overreach.”