PR, not penalty: EPA lets Syngenta off the hook for poisoning people

Instead of having to fork over the $4.8 million that was demanded as part of a massive lawsuit against the corrupt biotechnology giant, Syngenta Hawaii, a local unit of the Swiss company Syngenta AG, has instead been let off the hook by federal environmental regulators with a mere $150,000 slap on the wrist.

As you may recall, Syngenta became the target of litigation after hordes of farm workers on the island of Kauai fell ill due to the spread of Syngenta’s crop chemicals, which were being applied to genetically-modified (GM) corn and other crops. Plaintiffs had sought damages from the company for exposing islanders to all sorts of “restricted use chemicals,” which include alachlor, atrazine, chlorpyrifos, methomyl, metolachlor, permethrin, and paraquat.

But bought-off federal regulators were able to pull a fast one in favor of Syngenta, decreasing the $4.8 million suit to a $150,000 settlement – or just pennies on the dollar. In other words, Syngenta is being allowed to keep the vast majority of its profits from the spreading of deadly chemicals, while only having to pay a tiny fraction as a “penalty” – which, for all intents and purposes, is more of a public relations stunt than anything.

Syngenta will, however, have to spend an additional $400,000 on “worker protection training sessions” that will supposedly teach growers how to avoid the worst of the chemicals when working in the field. But even this is still just a drop in the bucket of Syngenta’s overall profit windfalls, which are orders of magnitude more robust.

EPA spreads fake news concerning this “victory” against Syngenta

What’s more disturbing is how the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is spinning its coalescence to this chemical giant. In reports, the EPA was praising its paltry fine against Syngenta as a “major victory” for workers, even though it’s actually more of an insult to those who’ve lost their health and livelihoods as a result of exposure to Syngenta’s deadly crop chemicals.

While acting EPA regional administration from Region 9, Alexis Strauss, did admit that the settlement was “far less” than what could have been levied against the company under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, and that it “would be lovely” to have imposed a higher fine, she says that doing so would have been tough.

“You don’t get to settle with a company by getting the maximum amount for every violation,” she stated to the media.

The EPA was actually the entity that first filed a complaint against Syngenta back in 2016, citing an early incident in which the company sprayed a field of GM corn with a pesticide containing the chemical chlorpyrifos. Workers were sent into the sprayed field without proper protective gear, and prior to the 24-hour waiting period for entry.

As a result, 19 workers ended up being exposed to the chemicals, and 10 of them were later taken to the hospital for treatment after suffering serious symptoms. The EPA later released a list of side effects that can result from exposure to chlorpyrifos, including vomiting, muscle twitching, tremors, weakness, diarrhea, blurred vision, convulsions, difficulty breathing, and paralysis.

A second incident occurred in 2017, resulting in at least 77 workers who suffered serious adverse effects. These workers filed a 388-count complaint against Syngenta with maximum penalties of $19,000 per violation – and this in addition to the potentially millions of dollars in additional fines that could have been levied against Syngenta, none of which were realized.

Some have tried to blame President Trump for this, claiming that his alleged “lax” approach to enforcing environmental law was the cause. But Strauss was clear in explaining that this decision had nothing to do with left-right politics, and that it’s just the way things are for chemical companies that, in many cases, get away with murder for profit.

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