Whistleblower alleges herbicide sprayings in Waialua violated safety rules

WAIALUA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A former farm worker alleges in a lawsuit that a GMO seed company dangerously mishandled herbicides, potentially exposing the Waialua community.

Shannell Grilho said that DuPont Pioneer fired her and her husband Morgan Armitage about a year ago, after she raised questions about the company's spraying practices.

"They should not be able to do this to anyone," Grilho said. "We're still dealing with it now. We're trying. We got evicted from where we were living."

According to Grilho, the company sprayed its fields even on days when the winds exceeded safety rules. Pioneer's former Waialua farm is adjacent to Waialua High and Intermediate School and a nearby subdivision.

"You're talking about health, safety and welfare, hazardous chemicals. Not only are they worried about their co-workers who they supervise but they're worried about bringing this back to their children," said Michael Green, Grilho's attorney said.

Pioneer declined to respond to the specific allegations in the lawsuit but issued this statement: "We … (follow) rigorous safety protocols to ensure the safety of our employees and our neighbors."

Pioneer no longer uses those fields, but has operations in Kunia and on the Big Island.

According to Grilho's lawsuit, Pioneer sprayed its fields with herbicides such as Roundup and Honcho, using backpack sprayers and boom sprayers mounted on tractors. The sprayers are required to keep 500 feet away from workers.

But Grilho said sprayers sometimes came too close, forcing her to evacuate co-workers in a van to drive to a safer location.

She said that after she raised her concerns with a supervisor, she was reprimanded and was ordered to work in the fields.

She said she was given boots two sizes too big and was required to walk up to 50 acres a day, injuring her knee.

Two days before Christmas in 2015, she was fired. Her husband Morgan, a 13-year Pioneer employee, was terminated about a month later.

"This is only to make as much money DuPont can make, to get these crops done and get them sprayed. Everyday it's for the almighty dollar for them and the hell with the workers," Green said.

"This is disgusting of major corporations and it has destroyed this family financially. But they can't destroy their spirit."

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