(December 20, 2019) Monsanto was fined $10 million last month for spraying a banned pesticide in Hawaii. Monsanto continued to store and use a pesticide banned in 2013 for about a year after it was prohibited by the EPA.
The $10 million fine was part of a plea agreement filed in November 2019 in U.S. District Court in Hawaii. As part of the deal with prosecutors, Monsanto pleaded guilty to illegally storing and using a banned pesticide in Maui County.
The fine brings to fruition one phase of a multi-pronged inquiry launched by the EPA in 2016 over pesticide misuse by several different chemical companies, including Syngenta.
Syngenta and Chlorpyrifos
Honolulu Civil Beat.com reported that the most high-profile ongoing investigation by EPA involves Syngenta, which sprays its poisons on Kauai and Oahu. Ten Syngenta workers on Kauai needed hospital care in January 2016 after walking onto a field sprayed with chlorpyrifos 20 hours earlier. The EPA banned chlorpyrifos for home use in 2000, and its own scientists have since called for a complete ban. However, political maneuvers by disgraced former Trump Attorney General Scott Pruitt have kept chlorpyrifos on the market, despite its being known to cause learning disabilities and mental retardation in children whose pregnant mothers were exposed to it. Cozy EPA relations with companies it is supposed to oversee have helped kept chlorpyrifos on the market in an ongoing tragedy enabled by the EPA.
Monsanto to Pay Criminal Penalty
The Hawaiian court also assessed administrative fines of $200,000 and a special assessment of $125. Monsanto will pay a $6 million criminal fee and $4 million to various government entities, including the Department of Agriculture, Department of Land and Natural Resources, Department of Health, its Environmental Management Division, and the Kahoolawe Island Reserve Commission. Each will receive $800,000.
Monsanto put on Probation
The court ordered Monsanto to pay the fines within 14 days. It also ordered Monsanto to develop an environmental compliance program and agree to environmental audits every six months at its Hawaii locations. Monsanto must also submit to site visits from a probation officer.
A special agent in the EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Hawaii, Jay Green, said in a press release. “EPA will continue to work in close partnership with our state and local counterparts to bring cases against those who knowingly threaten the health and safety of Hawaiian communities.”
Charges in this case include one count each of storing the banned pesticide, Penncap-M, at locations on Maui and Molokai and using it in Valley Farm on Maui. The EPA banned the pesticide in 2013. The counts for illegal storage are felonies.
The EPA wanted companies to dispose of the banned pesticide by December of that year, but Monsanto’s facility on Molokai continued storing it until September 2014. In July 2014, Monsanto sprayed the banned pesticide over two acres of Maui farm land and ordered workers to enter the fields just seven days after although federal rules set a 31-day wait time, according to court documents.
Monsanto eventually disposed of 2,250 pounds of hazardous waste, which includes the banned pesticide.
Monsanto / Bayer Statement
Bayer’s vice president of communications in North America, Darren Wallis, said in a written statement that the company has improved its internal processes since the incident in 2014. (Bayer acquired Monsanto in 2018)
“We did not live up to our own standards or the law,” said Mr. Willis. “We have acknowledged this as part of our agreements with the Department of Justice, which are pending in federal District Court. We accept responsibility and are deeply sorry.”