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Hawai‘i County Directors Hear Testimony From Monsanto-Bayer Plaintiff

June 24, 2019, 7:30 AM HST (Updated June 24, 2019, 7:30 AM)
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(L–R) Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, Lei Wessel (assistant to Councilwoman Villegas) and Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas, June 21, 2019. Courtesy photo

Hawai‘i County directors of three agencies—Parks and Recreation, Public Works and Finance—met Friday, June 21, 2019, with the first plaintiff to win a lawsuit brought against Monsanto and its owner, Bayer, according to a Hawaiʻi Alliance for Progressive Action press release sent June 22.

Last summer, plaintiff Dewayne “Lee” Johnson was awarded $289 million by a jury in a California state court, though the judge in that case lowered the damages to $78 million.

Johnson was a groundskeeper in a California school district where he was required to regularly spray Roundup, which contains glyphosate, a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide and crop desiccant.

(Clockwise, starting upper left) Maurice Messina, deputy director of Department of Parks and Recreation; David Yamamoto, director of the Department of Public Works; Allan Simeon, deputy director of the Department of Public Works; Rep. Richard Creagan – House District 5; Dewayne “Lee” Johnson; and Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas – District 7, June 21, 2019. Courtesy photo

 

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Despite following all the instructions for safe-handling, he developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma and sued the company for allegedly failing to adequately warn the public of the threat of developing cancer from exposure to the product.

The court awarded him nearly $300 million in damages. Johnson is determined to share his experience with policy-makers in an effort to persuade more communities to better regulate the use of toxic pesticides and protect public health and the environment.

(L–R) Maurice Messina, deputy director of the Department of Parks and Recreation; David Yamamoto, director of Department of Public Works; Allan Simeon, deputy director of Department of Public Works; Rep. Richard Creagan, House District 5; and Dewayne “Lee” Johnson, June 21, 2019. Courtesy photo

The personal talk-story session with Johnson was organized by Councilmember Rebecca Villegas (District 7 – Central Kona), along with local advocacy group, Greener Hawai‘i and the statewide Protect Our Keiki coalition, which invited Johnson here.

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The Big Island stop was part of a tour that Johnson is making throughout the islands to educate residents and officials on the importance of reducing the use of pesticides and herbicides amid mounting evidence about the risks those chemicals pose to public health and our fragile island environment, according to the press release.

“It’s important for people to know this stuff, to know about what they’re being exposed to,” said Johnson. “If people have the information, they can make choices, they can be informed and protect themselves. I’m just a regular guy from a small town called Vallejo, who happened to seek the truth about my failing health and found answers.”

“I think people are starting to see that there is something going on with this product. I’m living proof of that,” said Johnson.

According to information compiled by the Protect Our Keiki coalition, there are more than 40 counties, cities and school districts, including Miami, Irvine and Los Angeles, that have already implemented restrictions or bans on Roundup and/or all synthetic pesticides. Members of the coalition are working to persuade counties across Hawaiʻi and the state Department of Education to join them.

Councilmember Villegas said that she plans to introduce a bill doing just that.

“My hope for today is to provide the information, the inspiration and the opportunity for collaboration amongst County of Hawai‘i departments to support a transition away from the use of pesticides and herbicides,” said Councilmember Villegas.

Dr. Michelle Suber is a member of Greener Hawaii, a community group that has worked successfully with the County of Hawai‘i to transition from herbicides to alternative methods in three different parks.

“There are intelligent and affordable ways to care for our parks and roadways without the use of harmful chemicals,” Dr Suber said. “It is our responsibility to the environment and to future generations to do so.”

Another member of Greener Hawaii, Blake Watson, has been working on potential policy changes the county could make in regards to vegetation management on road sides and parks.

“If we take a common sense approach to managing the lands along the roads as well as the parks, we can see that the alternatives are really preferable to the top down method of a chemical blanket approach,” advised Watson. “Plus, medically and legally speaking, the writing is on the wall. Protecting our workers from this dangerous chemical should be paramount.”

The Protect Our Keiki coalition includes the Hawaiʻi Alliance for Progressive Action, Beyond Pesticides, the Hawaiʻi Center for Food Safety, Hawaiʻi SEED, Greener Hawaii, Pesticide Action Network and the Frost Family Foundation.

Johnson will also be speaking on O‘ahu at a Board of Education hearing on the use of pesticides in schools on June 24 at 5 p.m. at Leilehua High School.

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