Corruption at the top of the Hawai’i Pesticide Division

The large chemical companies are challenging Hawai’i county laws mandating pesticide buffer zones and introduce “right to farm” bills galore because, they say, pesticides are regulated by the Department of Agriculture Pesticide Division headed by Thomas Matsuda.

In an explosive release of phone transcripts, citizen investigators at the Facebook group, “Maui’s Dirty Little Secrets” show that the Pesticide Branch is not enforcing the EPA rules on pesticides and is, in fact, dragging their feet on known contamination sites and spraying regimes violating the label instructions.  It is illegal to use pesticides in a manner inconsistent with label instructions which have the force of law.

This transcript concerns only county and state spraying of glyphosate (in Roundup) which the State of California is moving to designate as a suspected carcinogen.  Seven more transcripts are promised with more damning evidence of Pesticide Branch turning a blind eye, slow walking cases and simply not enforcing the rules.

You may remember the Civil Beat article castigating Thomas Matsuda (head of the Hawai’i Pesticide Branch) for dragging his feet on implementing the mandated pesticide disclosure.  Matsuda explained he didn’t want to be “reckless” with confidential business information. Who knew that the pesticides these companies spray is secret information? Much more likely these companies know a PR nightmare when they see one and are pressuring the administration and legislator into a cover-up.

The following is reprinted from Maui’s Dirty Little Secrets.


TRANSCRIPT OF PHONE RECORDING OF TOP DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE OFFICIAL RELEASED! The unedited transcript posted below is of Thomas Matsuda, the Head of the Pesticides Branch, explaining why he is unable/unwilling to enforce the pesticide label for roadside spraying.

Seven additional transcripts exist of recorded conversations of Hawaii Department of Agriculture officials and other staff members which provide disturbing details of how the Hawaii Department of Agriculture is failing to protect the health and safety of all Hawaii residents.
This developing scandal has resulted in requests for the Governor’s Office to open up an immediate investigation into the Hawaii Department of Agriculture. The Governor himself has been personally informed of the disturbing information and serious allegations that these 8 transcripts contain and is evaluating how to move forward. Please call Governor Ige’s office at (808) 586-0034 and ask that he order an independent investigation into the conduct of the Hawaii Dept. of Ag.
Thomas Matsuda 11-2-15
C=caller
R=Thomas Matsuda
C: That was back in May. They were spraying along, they were spraying Roundup along Pi’ilani Highway and someone happened, we happened to get video of right near the school. They were spraying along the highway. They had a sign on the back of the truck but as they were going down the road, anyone could pull out from any side street and get access to the areas that were just sprayed.
R: That school, they had some kind of function going on?
C: Yeah.
R: indistinguishable
C: Yeah. So anyone could walk on recently sprayed areas. I mean, it’s their standard practice. Right. They spray…they drive down the road and all the side streets, driveways, bike lanes, nobody knows that they’ve sprayed so they can end up walking on on wet, recently sprayed areas. So there was a violation or a warning letter, I’m not sure how you put it, but they were issued a…
R: A warning
C: My question is. There are other incidents where departments continue to do it. There’s a couple on the Big Island last week where I spoke to the county, county manager over on the Kona side. His team was spraying on the highways there. and I also spoke with the state DOT guy there…
R: indistinguishable question
C: I have to look at the my, hold on…
R: On the Big Island?
C: On the BIg Island, yeah. I’ve spoken with quite a few people so let me, let me just look it up on my email. One second. And let’s see. Shoot. I’ll have to look it up and let you know. There were two guys I spoke with..
R: Indistinguishable…So I remember that in uh a couple weeks ago. We had a meeting with state DOT.
C: Uh huh.
R: And also Harbors division. They also came in so we had about four people…
C: OK
R: in my office and the concern was actually your point: the spraying of glyphosate. And so what can be done about that, you know. Cause the community is more vigilant with the spraying. So each island [indistinguishable] You’re probably aware of that?
C: Yeah
R: So our recommendation with them was to review their spray protocols yeah, and see what similar what’s dissimilar spraying of weeds roadside, there may be other areas highly foot traffic so look at those kind of conditions also nearby schools, nearby hospitals, and all that. And kind of take a lead on spray applications and look at their protocol kind of match up. So high traffic areas be switching to a different kind of herbicide, less toxic. There’s a green product…
C: Like Avenger?
R: Yeah or maybe using backpacks in certain areas or even using a kind of marker dye so its more visible. Posting on their websites where spraying is going to happen. What else? Drop signs and all that. So we gave them some information and they were going to take it back to all their different counties and see what kind of protocols that they have and try to come up with a standardized one. But again, looking at the different scenarios, So that’s the [indistinguishable] a couple weeks ago.
C: So right now, they’re spraying in Waimea. They’re doing the same thing. They’re spraying on the side of the road. Someone has video of an hour ago, pictures of them doing it. They’re still, people are still able to access – I mean, the label specifically states that people and pets need to be kept away, so um..
R: On those areas like remote roadside or like a highway?
C: It’s on highway 19. High traffic area. There’s a bike lane and there’s houses.
R: OK.
C: And when I spoke with, I think it was Dale was his name actually, over on the Big Island. Yes. It was Dale. His secretary is Jennifer Quiabang, I think is her name? And when I spoke with the people on the Big Island, they were under, they said they had Dept of Ag training a few months ago and he was under the impression that the way they spray was perfectly fine. And that it doesn’t – that’s what the Dept of Ag top down has recommended. Now granted that was a training, I think he said, he had in August?
R: um huh.
C: But since the label specifically states people and pets need to be kept away, it’s obvious that spraying any public area and not having a physical barrier or staff or signs along the whole route…
R: right, yeah…
C: …would be illegal, and they’re still doing it. And they’re under the impression that they can still do it. So why I was calling is I just got off the phone with Christopher Gerkin on the Big Island and he said he would take a complaint although it sounds like it has to go through, he takes statements. It goes back to you guys on Oahu, It’s a months long process where I think it’s a situation where it seems like a systemic issue so a memo from the Dept of Ag to ALL state and county – and even private – like condominium complexes who spray right of ways and kids and pets and anyone can walk on it right away without them notifying people seems to me like a directive from the Dept of Ag saying, “This is what we expect. You need to take measures to absolutely prevent people and pets from accessing recently sprayed areas” would be a way to, I guess, top down address the whole thing and stop the violations rather than have it go the other way where everyone has to keep filing complaints for violations which takes away time from inspectors, right? Because they’ve got many other things they might be doing…
R: indistinguishable
C: …and at this point, I mean there’s a whole subset of the population now that is out with their video cameras ready to take videos and photos and file formal complaints. So I think it’s going to snowball to where you guys are getting hundreds of complaints. I don’t know if you are aware that there are websites, Facebook pages on every island where people are now documenting and now they know who to file with. They know how to file. So its going to absolutely tie up every inspector on every island if it doesn’t have a top down kind of solution. Especially since it’s so cut and dried. Right? You keep people away from it. So if they can’t do that, they can’t spray.
6:48
R: Well, OK. You know I hear what you’re saying. I just don’t want people filing because they see someone spraying. Are they exposed or are they walking into the area? I can see where, yeah, they got to post a sign and stuff. So like I said, we’re working with the different departments on that.
C: But isn’t it…But wouldn’t it make sense to make a memo saying if you don’t actually warn people from any kind of entrance way, where someone could come out of their driveway to get their mail, for example, they can walk out with their dog, someone can take a bike ride, someone can come out of a side street, if there’s any chance that somebody is going to come out into an area that’s recently sprayed and they haven’t made significant efforts to make people aware of that, then I disagree. I think that would be a case where anybody should file that because they’re violating …
7:38
R: Every pesticide label has to be followed. OK. So you can have the same argument for every pesticide product.
C: Exactly. Yeah.
R: The applicator has to follow that label. That’s the key factor. When you hone in on one product, there’s a few thousand more.
C: Oh I..
R: we’d have to come up with statements that…
C: Belive me, I’m not honing in on one product, …
8:03
R: No, no!
C: …I feel they should file this for everything.
R: Right. All the products. So the best way you can tell us is educate the label is the law. Follow that. We’ll try to work with the industry but all these products, that label, if it’s not according to that label, that’s considered a misuse.
C: So, so, …
R: …of the product.
C:So it’s apparent that the county and state agencies are misusing roundup on a …
R: yeah, well…
8:34
C: on a wide scale level.
R: Only if someone walked into that.
C: Wait. That doesn’t make sense though. The label says you have to keep people and pets away. So you’re saying someone has to actually walk onto it in order for it to be a violation?
8:48
R: Well yeah. If no one walked on it, they treated, someone walked on there, the spray had dried, there was no access to that.
C: But how do you know…
R: [indistinguishable]
C: How do you know if someone walks on it?
R: How do you know someone walked on it?
C: But, but if the label says you need to keep people and pets away. They drive down the street. They spray the whole thing. And then they’re gone. And it takes an hour, two hours to dry, how, how is that…
R:..hour to two hours
C: Well, even if it takes…
R: it takes like 40 minutes
C: OK. Say it takes 40 minutes. They drive down the road. They’re gone after a couple minutes of one area, someone comes out of a side street, wouldn’t that be against the label?
R: It [indistinguishable] when sprays have dried [indistinguishable]. Yeah.
C: So when they… even say 40 minutes. They’re gone. Now that place is still wet. And they have not warned anybody from the public that it was recently sprayed. How is that not a violation?
9:45
R: If no one walked in that area, it’s not a violation.
C: It would seem to me, that because they didn’t take any effort to keep people and pets away.
R: OK. We’ll try to work on this situation. You picking on one product. I understand that.
C: Well not one product. That’s the product that’s mostly used. I don’t care what they’re spraying. I’d want to know, if I came out of my driveway, if they had just sprayed it or if I was biking down the road, if they had just sprayed it. So I wouldn’t walk on it. I don’t think I should have actually have to walk on it to be able to file a complaint. I should feel safe going out of my house, onto any public area, knowing that I wouldn’t even have a chance of walking on it because county and state agencies took due diligence to follow the label by making sure that the people were aware that wouldn’t access it
R: I guess the other thing, is your exposure to that residue, what happens if you’re exposed. What do you think would happen to you?
10:47
C: I don’t care what happens to me. I just know that’s the label…
R: What you thinks gonna happen to you…
C: What happens to me is that I am exposed to a herbicide that I didn’t give consent to be exposed to.
R: Ok so now you talking about you, yeah, uh, what is it? Consent.
C: Yeah I don’t want to be exposed to something without my knowledge, so I feel like it, they should follow the label and there should be no chance that any child or any pet or any adult can walk on to the areas that are recently sprayed without knowing, if they’re public areas
11:22
R: OK. Help me here. How you propose we do that?
C: I propose that…
R: short of us sending an edict out. Any other recommendations you can help us with?
C: To get them to not spray without warning people?
11:42
R: Uh…so that people know maybe not to cut through the treated area.
C: Um. I would say that they have to station staff and signs and make sure that every possible public entrance until it dries. They stand there for an hour, if they need to. Or. Um. A better solution would be for them to invest in actual, there is equipment they can invest in to cut areas without having to spray or switching to nontoxic spray.
R: OK. Yeah. I like those. I like those. That’s helpful.
C: But it shouldn’t come down to having to have a solution before the violation, I mean the violations occuring so that should be dealt with immediately.
R: So you you proposing that the state, county workers stand there for 40 minutes, so many hours…
C: I propose that they
R: [indistinguishable] dollars, you know
C: But it’s also our health. So I propose they do whatever they need to do to either follow the label and if they can’t follow the label then don’t use the product. And switch to something…weed whack it, hire more people But it’s not my job to have to figure out how they can do something. They’re violating the label and that’s just what I’m concerned about. Because they’re not using a highly controversial – I mean all herbicides and pesticides are controversial – in a way – people don’t want to be exposed to them if they don’t have to be. So it really is, I mean, it’s my understanding that the Department of Ag that their job is to make sure that people are following the label and on a very widespread level in Hawai’i state and county agencies are currently not following the label and they’re doing it under the impression that they’re following the Dept of Ag guidelines.
13:34
R: It’s not…They should be following the LABEL’s guidelines…
C: Exactly. And they’re not.
R: [indistinguishable] enforce that, ok
C: And now that you are aware of it, that’s what I’m asking. Can you issue some sort of memo to the departments saying this is happening on a widespread level and I can provide you with many many videos of the last two months.
R: We have met with the DOT, brought it to their attention, and harbors, they’re looking at their protocols to see how they can best apply glyphosate.
C: I agree with that but in the meantime they’re still violating…
R: and [indistinguishable] using a greener product and being aware of what areas are being treated and maybe, like you say, more hands on stuff weedwhacking.
C: So in the meantime, they’re violating the label in their applications. How can we solve that? Where right now as we speak, there are areas where they’ve sprayed and not warned anyone and people can be walking on them. Or pets. Or children.
14:40
R: No. You’re, you’re…supposedly people get. If no on walks there and sprays [indistinguishable] violation you’re going on about until they dry you need someone there. If no one walks there, that’s the other part … going round and round.
C: Well, look. Not really. I mean it seems to me it’s kinda after the fact. If someone’s spraying, leaving the area and it’s a public area where someone CAN walk on it, you’re saying that someone actualy has to stand there with a video camera and wait til…?
R: You’re saying that.
C: Well that seems like the only way you’re saying it’s a violation.
R: How about, [indistinguishable] put signs saying do not enter treated areas. Would that work for you?
C: That would work. They’d have to put them on every access, every driveway, so someone couldn’t come in from the middle and not know. But that would work.
R: OK…
C: So will you send a memo out?
15:46
R: [indistinguishable] Recommendation to the group. We gave them a whole bunch of recommendations. Like I say, they’re looking at the protocols. They’re looking at the different treated areas. Developing the protocols. Then they’re going to come back to us, share that information. What I can do is let them know you called. You have concerns. OK? And we’ll go from there.
C: So in the meantime, though, are they allowed to keep spraying without putting signs up?
R: Yeah.
C: They are?
R: I can place a call to each person I talked to that …highways…let them know that you called.
C: But it’s your position that, that, the way they’re doing it, even though it violates label, someone walks on it, is not going to be changed any time soon?
16:37
R: If they are [indistinguishable] there’s no exposure to anybody: Yes. No exposure.
C: There was no exposure per se on Maui
R: [cross-talking] Not possible. Not possible [indistinguishable] walked into that area
C: So are you saying on Maui that the, that Lester Chin issued a citation in error because I didn’t have…
R: [indistinguishable] I said [indistinguishable] we’re not exposed? Yes or no?
C: On Maui the citation was issued because they didn’t take proper precautions. There was no one confirmed to be exposed.
R: But that is another part of the label.
17:16
C: Which is what?
R: Proper [indistinguishable] PBE, that they …
17:20
C: No that wasn’t it. It was that they didn’t take necessary measures to warn the public and keep people and pets away but there was no um there was no person who came forth and said, “I actually walked on it.” There was that you didn’t take the, you didn’t cordon off public areas to PREVENT people from walking on it.
R: And they saw people on this area. Is that correct? It was a high traffic area.
C: Yeah but I have multiple videos of them spraying highways with people in the area. Multiple…I can send them. Multi – there’s a ton of them. It’s a system-wide systemic issue for all county and public agencies.
17:57
R: OK. We’re addressing that. No need send them to me. I know where you’re coming from. I will call DOT and alert them. And see how they’re working on the protocols.
C: OK, so,
R: And if it comes down to posting the treated areas, we even suggested putting some dye markers so that people could see that, hey, this area doesn’t look [indistinguishable] difference in what was [?] was applied there.
C: Yeah, that doesn’t quite work, though, because not everyone might get that information so it’s, and children don’t know. It’s like signs, barracades, that kind of thing, works, but a dye marker, if you can’t get information out to everyone, that doesn’t work.
18:40
R: Dye marker, in conjunction with sign. And maybe posting on their website. That was the other recommendation. Certain areas can be sprayed are going to be sprayed in this period…
C: Well, that might be a supplementary thing, but that wouldn’t be the thing…
R: That’s all part of the protocols that we had discussed.
C: So ok, on a, on a stretch of um road where there’s driveways and everything that means they’d have to post hundreds of signs? Is that how they’re going to do it?
19:13
R: I’m not sure.
C: And so in the meantime, if people. So in the meantime if people see them spraying without cordoning it off, it’s illegal and they should immediately file a complaint.
19:25
R: I’m not saying that.
C: Or should they just call the
R: If you’re inciting people to do that…
C: I’m not…
R: I don’t see why you would want to do that.
C: I’m not inciting people. People are already upset.
R: You ARE. You ARE! Just, we’re working on this.
C: I love the fact you are working on it.
R: I’m trying so much here, OK
C: But in the mean time [indistinguishable] on the label, and I’m a little bit confused as to why the Dept of Ag is not interested in ensuring that they follow the label right now. From now on. And then come up with solutions. But immediately stop, start follwing it and stop violating the label. And it seems like everyone, you’re unwilling to take that on.
20:10
R: [sighs]
C: So I guess we’re just at a total difference of opioning. I can’t imagine the liability though…
R: [indistinguishable] difference of opinion. We’ll just live it at that, right now. But…
[both talking at once]
C: It just seems to me that the liability…
R:[indistinguishable] the DOT
C: When this got into the County Council, a couple councilmembers became aware of this DOT violation, they’re immediately like, “You guys need to stop and we need to find out a way to work around this” But there attitude wasn’t, “You can keep doing what you’re doing UNTIL we find a way to work around this.” Um. Their attitute was like, “That’s it. You can’t do this. You’re in violation.”
R: Who said that?
C: Um, this is what some of the conversations with the County Council, um, specific councilmembers have been. And they’re in the process of working up something to, um, address other ways to do it. Whether it be more funding, more staff to weedwhack, more equipment. But people on Maui and actually people on the Big Island, the public is not comfortable with the fact that “they know there’s a problem but let them keep doing it until they have alternatives.” So that’s just, I mean the liability, I imagine, is huge if, if the Dept of Ag is aware that the misuse is widespread…
[talking at same time]
R: Liability…talk about liability, tch…
C: If you have a citizen, whose child, let’s say, walks out, walks on to a recently sprayed area, gets glyphosate on them and has some sort of health impact from that and if, when they go to the agency that did it, the agency is like, “well, the Dept of Ag has not told us not to. We had a training. It’s all fine.” I would think the liability would go on up where [garbled] and that would cost everybody a lot of money. All taxpayers. All I’m asking is a memo from you guys that let people know you’re not allowed to do this, this and this. And if you’re going to spray it, you NEED to do this, this and this.
22:09
R: I think a general memo any type of pesticide use you should follow the label because health environmental, it’s on you.
C: So is that something you can send out? Because it’s pretty well documented, that they’re using this very widespread um level against the label. Not in compliance with it.
R: No I would, not right now.
C: When?
R: I can’t give you a time for it. The best I can do is tell you that I [garbled] We will be, in our education, [garbled] time to get the work out DOT [garbled] herbicides. The pest control guys, the farmers, the schools, and um, pets exposed to pesticides, education piece we’re trying to get out.
C: So what’s the, what should people do? Because there are people on…
R: Follow the label.
C: No, what should people do when they see someone from the county or state driving down the road and spraying on the side?
R: Use some common sense. If they’re exposed to the drift, call us. OK.
C: So they should only be concerned about themselves and not about anyone else in the community? Just if they get sprayed,
R: Every, well,
C: I mean, I’m guessing kids walk home…
R: [garbled] kinda sounds. Is that what you want to do?
C: I would like people to follow the label.
R: [garbled] would like to do that
C: I’m…
R: So do we.
23:57
C: So I’d like a directive because they all seem confused…
R: [garbled] We’re working on the education piece. In all sections of the community testify OK?
C: That’s a very important part
R: Of course, homeowners are one of the worst violators.
C: But right now state and county agencies have widespread violations and they’re doing it as recently as 10 minutes ago. And, and when citizens call up, they say, “WEll, the department of Ag – they don’t have a problem with this. This is what the training was.” And I know you had a meeting…recently but they’re still doing it
[crosstalk unable to understand R]
C: That’s my concern. I…
R: I’m working on it. I hear you. I [??] what you think should be done. I’ll pass it on. A lot of that is included in what the highway guys should be doing. Putting it in the protocol.
C: And so if someone sees them doing it, someone’s walking on it, it’s going to take months to get back. They have to call the inspector and the inspector will come out and take a statement, talk to people, and then it will go to Oahu. Is that how it works?
R: not because they’re spraying there [?] If that’s what you want to do, then go ahead.
C: So, but it, but it …
R: Try not to tie my guys up, is what I’m saying.
C: I’m not trying to do that. I’m just trying to get people to follow the label.
R: [crosstalk] [?} It basically is that they [?] they got sprayed, they got impacted. If I gotta triage the complaints, the guy [?] get the drift on to them, right? from a misapplication. We’ll go after these guys. But, the one I’m driving by, we get a lot of complaints um and if you gonna [?] take the call [?] big guy and you going to be just driving around. You walk into one drift, you get ill, you’ve been exposed, call us.
C: [crosstalk] Believe me, I’m not the only that…
C: Well, I just, I mean the way they’re doing it, a lot of people have that potential, cause they’re not following the label and I, I…
R: Potential, yeah…
C: It just sucks to have to actually get sprayed before someone can actually complain. It seems backwards. And not pro-active. And putting the health and safety of people at risk…
R: I’m working with the department of transportation and looking at their protocol. I’m taking some of your recommendations on [garbled]
C: I love that but in the meantime, they should be immediately stopped from violating the label.
R: I can’t do that.
C: OK. I just wanted to be clear on that. Alright. Appreciate the call.
R: OK. Thank you. bye

1 thought on “Corruption at the top of the Hawai’i Pesticide Division

  1. This is an amazingly rich document that proves that the State is not enforcing the label laws. Everyone driving down the road near Monsanto’s testing grounds needs to take care….how? This is a very disturbing matter, and the visitors should be aware…perhaps it is the visitors who can help common sense win over ignorance and greed in paradise.

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