Waimea, a small town on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, is home to about 12,000 acres where chemical companies grow GMOs (genetically modified organisms) and spray pesticides on the crops.
Waimea has seen an upsurge in birth defects over the past few years, which some locals believe may be linked to the pesticides.
The chemical companies spray "17 times more restricted use insecticides" on their crops in Hawaii than are normally used on the U.S. mainland, noted the Hawaii Center For Food Safety, a non-profit organization, in a May report.
The Hawaii Center For Food Safety also reported that "[p]esticide drift frequently sickens Hawai‘i’s schoolchildren, triggering nausea, vomiting, dizziness and difficulty breathing, among other symptoms, and in some cases necessitating decontamination showers, school evacuations and hospitalization."
“Your eyes and lungs hurt, you feel dizzy and nauseous. It’s awful,” Howard Hurst, a special education teacher, told The Guardian. “Here, 10 percent of the students get special-ed services, but the state average is 6.3 percent. t’s hard to think the pesticides don’t play a role.”
However, the companies growing the GMO crops will not reveal exactly which types of chemicals are used in pesticides, but claim that the undisclosed chemicals are safe.
When questioned about the birth defects, Bennette Misalucha, executive director of Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, which represents the chemical companies, said in a written statement: “We have not seen any credible source of statistical health information to support the claims."
However, Dr. Carla Nelson, a local pediatrician, points to a report by American Academy of Pediatrics that found “an association between pesticides and adverse birth outcomes, including physical birth defects," notes The Guardian.
Nelson recalled that local schools have been evacuated twice when the chemical pesticides have drifted from the GMO crops. Children had to go to the hospital, but doctors didn't know exactly what chemical exposure they were suffering from.
“It’s hard to treat a child when you don’t know which chemical he’s been exposed to,” Nelson added.
Dr. Sidney Johnson, a pediatric surgeon at the Kapiolani Medical Center for Women and Children, has noticed that the number of newborns born with their abdominal organs outside their bodies has increased dramatically since the 1980s.
Johnson and a medical student are currently studying the birth defects.
“You kind of wonder why this wasn’t done before,” Johnson stated. “Data from other states show there might be a link, and Hawaii might be the best place to prove it.”
One reason for the lack of studies might be the cozy relationship between some lawmakers and the chemical companies, which are operating under an very old exemption originally granted to sugar plantations that allows the companies to dump chemicals into the water.
The state of Hawaii asked the federal government for an exemption for the chemical companies so that they won't have to follow modern EPA laws.