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EPA Settles Syngenta Pesticide Claim for Pennies on the Dollar

The GMO company will pay $150,000 instead of the $4.8 million that had been sought for exposing Kauai workers to pesticides.

Federal environmental regulators have settled claims against a multinational GMO corn grower that exposed dozens of workers on Kauai to a dangerous pesticide in two separate incidents.

Syngenta Hawaii, a local unit of the Swiss giant Syngenta AG, will pay a civil penalty of $150,000 and spend $400,000 on worker protection training sessions for growers under the agreement.

It’s a fraction of the more than $4.8 million the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had announced it was seeking for the 2016 mishap alone, which sent 10 workers to the hospital.

But the EPA on Monday portrayed the outcome as a major victory, the largest settlement imposed under 2015 farmworker safety rules, and a win for communities that would benefit from the safety education programs for farmers.

Alexis Strauss, acting regional administrator for the EPA’s Region 9, acknowledged that the settlement was far less than the maximum allowed under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act and its regulations designed to protect workers.

Strauss said it “would be lovely” if the EPA had been able to impose a higher penalty, but she added, “You don’t get to settle with a company by getting the maximum amount for every violation.”

As described in the EPA’s complaint, the first incident occurred in 2016 when Syngenta sprayed a field of genetically modified corn with a pesticide containing the chemical chlorpyrifos then, sent workers into the field to staple printed bands to the corn stalks. The workers were supposed to either wait 24 hours or put on protective gear before going into the field, but did neither.

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