Vague guidelines on pesticide use at schools has community calling for change

There's a new push to ensure DOE schools stay away from harmful pesticides on campus

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Parents alongside concerned members of the the community are challenging school officials over the chemicals being used to kill weeds on campus.

During a community meeting Monday, the head of Hawaii’s public schools admitted she’s not sure if the Department of Education is fully compliant with a new law banning certain pesticides on or near campuses.

Those restricted use chemicals are outlines in Act 45 which went into effect this past January.

Now many in the community want Hawaii’s public schools to take that law a step further by banning all pesticides and herbicides on school campuses.

They’re spotlighting stories like Dewayne “Lee” Johnson. The former groundskeepers was diagnosed with a type of full-body skin cancer called Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma.

“It’s on my arms, on my chest, legs. On my feet,” said Johnson.

For years, his duties at a northern California school district included mixing and spraying hundreds of gallons of weed killer.

“What I used was called Ranger Pro,” said Johnson. “Glyphosate is the main ingredient in Ranger Pro and Roundup.”

He sued Monsanto, testifying that the herbicide likely caused his cancer. Last year, jurors unanimously agreed and awarded him nearly $300 million.

Monsanto is currently appealing that ruling.

On Monday evening Johnson alongside concerned community members urged Hawaii’s Board of Education to take a hard stance on the issue.

Officials confirm, although custodians are trained not to use herbicides like Roundup, written guidelines are vague.

“The board does not have a specific policy that names pesticides or herbicides that should not be used,” said Hawaii State Board of Education Chair Catherine Payne. "We need to know if this is being used improperly at our schools.”

Lee hopes his story will help to limit the use of these chemicals around schools and prevent unintended exposure to students and staff.

“This is a big deal,” he said “My goal is to see it go back to more manual labor. Where the soil is respected because it’s given us so much.”

A former Kona coffee farmer is among those suing Monsanto over glyphosate.

In April, the Environmental Protection Agency recommended to reapprove it’s use in the United States.

In the meantime, the maker of Roundup maintains when used properly the herbicide isn’t dangerous saying, “it stands behind the safety of its products and will defend them.”

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