The poison in Molokai soil

Molokai Times
By Alexandra Charles
7/12/2007 1:51:39 PM

Heptachlor, a toxic pesticide banned in the U.S. in 1988 and classified as a probable carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency, is likely to cause ill effects to human health if exposure to the chemical is in high doses and over a long period of time.

Studies of the pesticides’ effects have been limited to laboratory rodents. When fed high levels of heptachlor over a long period of time, the animals developed liver cancer. Several experts say it is reasonable to assume similar effects will occur in humans who are exposed to a high dose of heptachlor by drinking water or milk, inhaling air, or touching soil contaminated by the chemical.

“Pesticides by their nature are dangerous,” explained farmer Larry Jefts. “They are created to kill stuff or stop its growth.”

He added, “They may not be dangerous to you and me but they may be to some weeds and bugs. We want to be really careful, to follow rules, and to rely on science and not science fiction (when using pesticides on agricultural land).”

Research confirms pineapple companies contaminated the soil when using heptachlor to kill pests on crops. Of major concern is what impact such a regular agricultural practice in Hawaii during the late 1950s and early 1980s has on people today.

A problem arises from land use changes because when new residences are built on agricultural land that was contaminated by pesticides, homeowners are not told about the potential harmful impact to their health.

For instance, after the Hawaiian Homes Act was established in 1920, the federal government put 200,000 acres of Hawaiian land aside for homesteading by Hawaiians with 50 percent or more native blood. In Hoolehua, agricultural lots were established. It is unlikely that homesteaders were informed about what was put into the soil when the land was part of pineapple plantations.

Residents have a variety of suspicions and concerns regarding pesticides like heptachlor. One resident, who wanted to remain anonymous, said the number of infant gravesite markers in the north side of the Maunaloa cemetery took him aback. He pointed out that Maunaloa was once a pineapple town and said it was chilling for him to see how many children did not live more than a few days. Currently, it is difficult to uncover the cause of death for those buried in the cemetery.

The heptachlor-milk connection . . .

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Copyright 2007 Molokai Times

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