Waimea residents sue Pioneer

SUBHEAD: GMO seed company facing substantial lawsuit after ignoring residents for a decade about health risks.  

By Vanessa Van Voorhis on 13 December 2011 for Garden Island News -  

Image above: Waimea River looking north. Zone highlighted by red outline is area of disturbed soil used for GMO experimental testing that sits on bluff upwind of Waimea Town that lies to left of river. Pioneer headquarters and laboratories are at lower left of zone. From GoogleEarth via Juan Wilson. Click to enlarge.

On behalf of more than 150 Waimea residents, attorneys on Tuesday filed a lawsuit in Fifth Circuit Court on O‘ahu against Pioneer Hi-Bred International, a DuPont company.

The 58-page lawsuit alleges that Pioneer’s practices in the farming of genetically modified seed crops on fields next to Waimea unlawfully allowed pesticides and pesticide-laden fugitive dust to blow into residents’ homes on almost a daily basis for more than 10 years.

Honolulu attorney Gerard Jervis and Las Vegas attorney Kyle Smith said the amount requested in the lawsuit was not disclosed in the filing, but added that the amount is “substantial” and will redress and remedy the impact to residents and diminished value of more than 100 homes.

The suit, accompanied by numerous exhibits, contends that despite ongoing community complaints and a petition by Waimea residents in 2000 requesting relief, Pioneer’s GMO operations have continually generated excessive fugitive dust and used inherently dangerous pesticides without taking preventative steps to control airborne pollutants as promised by Pioneer and as required by state and county law.

The plaintiffs also allege that long-term, excessive exposure to dust and pesticides have resulted in reduced property values and physical damage to their homes.

They claim that they have been faced with constant cleaning and must live with windows and doors closed year-round for fear of pesticide- and dust-related health problems.

“The community is covered,” Jervis said. “(Pioneer) plows all the time. They send out notices regarding planting and spraying — planting is just another word for plowing … (Residents) are living in lock down, unable to open their doors or windows.”

He said residents contacted him a year ago and asked for help.

During the last year, he has had key people looking at the situation, including toxicologists and researchers. It eventually led to a sit-down meeting with DuPont at their request, Jervis said, “but that didn’t go anywhere.”

The fields up above Waimea have been plowed and left bare, Smith said, which creates live dust plumes a couple of hundred feet high.

“We’ve been bringing in some of the best experts in the country and the state to look at what’s going on,” he said, adding that the vast majority of the plaintiffs have lived in the area for decades.

This suit will not address health impacts, Smith said, because those are “thorny” issues, though a large number of residents claim they suffer from asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“When you deal with dust long-term, there’s a host of respiratory impacts,” he said, but this “first” lawsuit seeks to address the impact on property values and cleaning.

Cindy Goldstein, the business and community outreach manager for Pioneer Hi-Bred, said on Tuesday she could not comment on the lawsuit.

“We’ve been a good community partner for over 40 years, and even though this suit has been filed, we’ll continue to be a good community partner,” she said. “Whenever someone files a suit, I can no longer comment.”

Pioneer leases the property it farms from Gay & Robinson Inc. and Robinson Family Partners, which are also named in the suit.

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