OVERVIEW OF EVENTS.
In August and September 2017, Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and US Fish and Wildlife (USFWS) conducted three aerially drops of diphacinone rodenticide, totaling approximately 11.5 tons, on Lehua Island and into its coastal and nearshore waters below the high tide line. Lehua Island is less than one mile from a native Hawaiian subsistence community of Ni‘ihau and 17 miles from Kaua‘i.
In early September 2017, days after the second of the three aerial drops, a mass die-off of reef fish and many seabirds was videotaped on Lehua's shores. One week after this incident, DLNR and USFWS with an official permit by the Hawaii Department of Agriculture, conducted its third poison drop without any prior notice to the public.
To date, DLNR and USFWS have not yet released lab test results from the dead bird or fish specimens collected by them in early September, though agency representatives had stated that such results were expected by early October.
OCTOBER 13, 2017- FIVE WHALES DIE IN MASSIVE POD STRANDING
On October 13, 2017, approximately one month following the diphacinone aerial drop, five pilot whales struggled and died on the nearby shores of Kaua'i in a horrific mass stranding witnessed by hundreds of onlookers. Many more stranded pilot whales were led back to deeper waters by the tremendous efforts of local Kaua'i residents, preventing an even more devastating whale death toll.
Scientists and researchers immediately and formally requested forensic testing under specific lab testing protocols for liver, stomach contents, blood and tissue. Such requests called for the lab testing of any detectable level of diphacinone, including "sub-lethal dose" levels. This data is greatly needed since there is currently no data available on the effect of this anticoagulant rodenticide on cetaceans (whales, dolphins and their close relatives). USFWS and NOAA had approved the Lehua poison drop despite admitting that they had no available information at all about the possible effects of this poison on whales and cetaceans.
The scientific community awaits the results of necropsies and testing being conducted by the Federal agency National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), DLNR, USFWS, HI Department of Agriculture and all other agencies involved in this event.
The EPA label for diphacinone states that "This pesticide is toxic to birds, mammals and aquatic organisms" and contains warnings of secondary poisoning (ie, by ingestion of poisoned prey). Prior to 2007, it was illegal to apply diphacinone pesticide "directly to water" or "to intertidal areas below the mean high water mark" for conservation use. Current EPA labels for non-conservation use of diphacinone still contain the prohibitions against direct application to water and intertidal areas.
Yet, despite the current label warning, and despite Lehua's waters being important habitat for several endangered species, Scott Enright, the head administrator of Hawaii Department of Agriculture, issued state permits for three large-scale rodenticide drops into Lehua's waters.
The permits were also issued despite an ongoing Hawaii Department of Agriculture investigation, announced on July 31, 2017, on the safety of the rodenticide DITRAC D-50 and its active ingredient, diphacinone. Mr. Enright's permit issuances also contravened two formal, written requests by Hawaii State Representative Dee Morikawa to delay the aerial drop pending further research and public consultation.
The HI Department of Agriculture permits also defied a prior agency directive issued in 2009 by its former Pesticides Branch head "not to issue aerial application permits that might result in pellets entering into marine ecosystems" until the EPA develops data requirements and study protocols for such ecosystems pursuant to Federal law. This Pesticides Branch agency directive was issued following the whale deaths that occurred after the 2009 Lehua poison drop (2 dead whales) and 2008 Mokapu poison drop (one dead whale).
Despite this, HI Department of Agriculture approved and sent its first aerial drop permit to DLNR at the close of business on August 22, 2017 and the aerial drop began immediately on the following morning of August 23, 2017, precluding the possibility of any preemptive action.
2009 FAILED AERIAL DROP AT LEHUA FOLLOWED BY WHALE DEATHS AND MASSIVE FISH DIE-OFF
In 2009 DLNR and USFWS conducted a very similar aerial drop of 3,900 lbs. of diphacinone on Lehua that had failed in its rodent eradication goal. Two whales and a large-scale fish die off followed, though DLNR and USFWS claimed they were not related to the aerial rodenticide drop. Eight years later, in 2017, the same agencies conducted another aerial drop, this time of 11.5 tons of same rodenticide (a six-fold increase from 2009). The 2017 aerial drop was followed by five whale deaths, fish and bird die-offs and a mass whale stranding.
Rodenticide drops into Hawaii waters and near its shorelines were conducted in 2008 (Mokapu Island), 2009 (Lehua Island), and 2017 (Lehua Island). After all three poison operations, whale deaths followed. Similarities in timing of whale deaths following the aerial drops of poison necessitate further investigation into possible causative or contributing roles of diphacinone on the whale deaths.
CONCERNS EXPRESSED BY EPA AND HAWAII DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
In their 2017 agency comment letters, NOAA, the EPA, Hawaii Department of Health, scientists and researchers had expressed concerns, including concerns of the complete lack of Lehua-specific baseline data on the actual rodent population or actual extent of rodent pressure to justify the aggressive poison drop, as well as lack of sustained resourcing for monitoring and enforcement protocols for preventing the re-introduction of rodents to Lehua. Many comments noted specifically that the agencies largely relied on general anecdotes vs. Lehua-specific research, to justify this aerial drop.
MORE LETHAL FORMS OF RODENTICIDE ON LEHUA MAY FOLLOW
A subsequent aerial drop of a more lethal rodenticide, brodifacoum, will be used in summer 2018 if the recently completed aerial drop fails to achieve sustained 100% eradication of rodents. The DLNR and USFWS Finding of No Significant Impact covers the possible brodifacoum aerial drop for 2018, even though those agencies have neither applied for the Special Local Needs permit required for this more lethal rodenticide under state and Federal law, nor confirmed the likelihood that an Special Local Needs permit would be approved.
LACK OF INCLUSION OF NATIVE HAWAIIAN INPUT
The EPA also urged DLNR to conduct effective consultation with the local Hawaiian and marine community. Yet, two native Hawaiian organizations and a representative of OHA submitted comment letters and an Opposition Statement describing environmental justice issues, lack of inclusion in decisionmaking, and concern about past legal violations by the project consultant in prior aerial rodenticide drops. A public meeting called by DLNR to announce the Final Environmental Assessment for the aerial drop was met with intense community outrage.
ABOUT THIS ARCHIVE
This Archive is a document repository for researchers, policymakers in need of quick access to research reports, applicable laws, public statements, violation reports, and other source materials about the aerial drop of diphacinone on Lehua Island in August and September 2017. A Search Bar at the top right of each webpage brings users to webpages and documents based on keyword searches.
The Archive was assembled through the input of scientists, legal researchers, policy watchdogs and others concerned about the lack of public awareness of the history of the project and the risks involved in the aerial broadcasting of rodenticide into coastal waters generally.
Dead whale, West Kauai 2009
Dead reef fish, Ni‘ihau 2009
Dead seabirds, September 4, 2017
Dead whales, October 13, 2017
Lehua waters are critical habitat and feeding areas for endangered monk seals and green sea turtles, a diverse and rare abundance of reef fish and corals, and cetaceans (whales, dolphins and their close relatives).