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Hawaii County Considering Toxic Herbicide Ban As It Tries Goats As One Alternative

Sharon Willeford, courtesy of Sierra Club Hawaii
A bill to stop herbicide spraying on Hawaii County roads and parks has cleared a County Council committee and is headed for a public hearing.

A Hawaii County Council committee approved a measure Tuesday that would ban the county from using toxic herbicides in an effort to reduce public and workers' exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.

The ban would only apply to county agencies that maintain public areas, including parks, sidewalks and trails. Private property owners would not be covered by the ban.

This isn’t the first time the Hawaii County Council has taken up the subject of a toxic herbicide ban.

Blake Watson, a representative from the Hawaii Sierra Club who helped draft the bill, said the last time the council voted on the topic, there were issues defining what should be considered toxic.

“We decided to make a different kind of system that specifically laid out the chemicals without getting in the quagmire of what’s toxic and what’s dangerous, which gets really murky,” Watson said.

Instead, the current bill names the kinds of chemicals that would fall under the toxic herbicide ban along with examples of the products that contain the substances, such as Roundup weedkiller with glyphosate.

Glyphosate's connection to cancer in humans has been the subject of scientific and legal debate. Still, it is on the list to be banned if the bill is approved.

“It’s just more simple this way,” Watson said. “If the county wants to add to it [the list], they can add to it. That’s another beauty to this method.”

The toxic herbicide ban would take four years to take effect. During that time, the county would explore alternatives to using herbicides.

“I would imagine working with a consultant working and training us on the alternative means,” said Hawaii County Public Works Director David Yamamoto. “Four years is probably going to go by real quick in terms of trying to convert.”

If the county wanted to use a banned herbicide over the four-year transition period, it first would have to post a notice 24 hours in advance naming the product and specifying exactly when and where it would be used.

The location would not be accessible to the public until the product dries, but for no fewer than four hours.

Another provision of the bill calls for the county to die the banned product the color blue to make it as visible as possible.

Council member Rebecca Villegas introduced the bill and is optimistic it will be approved by the full council.

“I'm very hopeful that we can make this transition as a county and work through our fears and . . . really pull together to identify solutions and navigate our way into best practices that won't include herbicide,” she said.

“That will allow for our parks and roadways to be safer for our children and families and animals.”

As an alternative to herbicides, the county has already implemented a pilot program using goats to maintain Hilo Soccer Field.

Watson said the goats are a good option in maintaining drainage ways.

“They spray Roundup on it [now] because they can’t get in there with the machinery,” he said. “That is a perfect place to use goats because it is rocky; it’s their wheelhouse.”

A public hearing on the bill will be scheduled in coming weeks.

Ashley Mizuo is the government reporter for Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Contact her at amizuo@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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