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DBCP Poisoned Water Wells in Hawaii, US

Pineapple's toxic legacy in Hawaii. Water contamination because of the pesticide dibromochloropropane (DBCP).


Dibromochloropropane, or DBCP, is a pesticide introduced by the Dow Chemical Company and Shell Development Company in 1955 in order to control nematodes, or root worms, at the base of pineapple plants. However, by 1984, when DBCP was finally phased out in Hawai`i, it would cause damage to more than just nematodes. Although DBCP was initially thought to dissolve in soil, it instead percolated into the groundwater, and contaminated the drinking water supply in Hawai`i [2;5]. DBCP is in the persistent organic pollutants class of pesticides, which remain in the environment for long periods of time and can be harmful to human health [7]. By 1977, DBCP was known to be harmful, and was banned in California after it was discovered to cause cancers in test animals, and that workers exposed to DBCP were experiencing infertility [5]. DBCP has also been linked to kidney and liver damage, infertility and potentially cancer [7].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:DBCP Poisoned Water Wells in Hawaii, US
Country:United States of America
State or province:O`ahu, Maui, Moloka`i, and Lana`i.
Location of conflict:Hawaii
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Specific commodities:Pesticides
Fruits and Vegetables
Project Details and Actors
Project details

-According to 1978 testimony to the EPA from the Pineapple Growers Association of Hawai`i, a ban on DBCP would reduce the yield of their crop by $4 million.

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Type of populationRural
Affected Population:unknown
Start of the conflict:1959
End of the conflict:1986
Company names or state enterprises:Maui Land & Pine from United States of America
Dole Fruit Company from United States of America
Del Monte from United States of America
Relevant government actors:Environmental Protection Agency; Department of Agriculture; Pineapple Research Institute (PRI); Hawaii State Department of Health; Honolulu Board of Water Supply
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Supporters: University of Hawai`i Water Resource Research Center;
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Neighbours/citizens/communities
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Soil contamination, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Other Health impacts
Other Health impacts kidney and liver damage, infertility, testicular atrophy, and potentially cancer.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Violations of human rights
Potential: Displacement
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Project cancelled
contaminated wells removed from service; carbon filters to clean up water supply;
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:The use of DBCP ended in 1984. It remained in the soil and groundwater of Hawai'i for decades, but as of 2018, has only been detected at levels below 0.04 parts per billion, the maximum contamination standard set by the state of Hawaii.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

[11] In Hawaiʻi, Plantation Tourism Tastes Like Pineapple
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[2] Bartholomew, Duane P., Richard A. Hawkins, and Johnny A. Lopez. "Hawaii pineapple: the rise and fall of an industry." HortScience 47, no. 10 (2012): 1390-1398.
[click to view]

[1] Oki, Delwyn S., and Thomas W. Giambelluca. "DBCP, EDB, and TCP contamination of ground water in Hawaii." Groundwater 25, no. 6 (1987): 693-702.
[click to view]

[8] Clark, Heather A., and Suzanne M. Snedeker. "Critical evaluation of the cancer risk of dibromochloropropane (DBCP)." Journal of Environmental Science and Health Part C 23, no. 2 (2005): 215-260.
[click to view]

[3] In Midst of '83 Water Crisis, State Rises to Defense of Growers. (1996).
[click to view]

[4] Merwin, W.S. "Hawaii Wakes Up To Pesticides." The Nation. (1985).
[click to view]

[6] DBCP and Dole, 30 Years Later
[click to view]

[5] Pineapple's Lasting Legacy: The Poisoned Wells of Maui
[click to view]

[7] Pineapple, Water, and Pesticides–Not the Most Ideal Cocktail
[click to view]

[10] "Trace levels of a chemical detected in west Oahu water well." Hawaii News Now. (2018).
[click to view]

[9] Imada, Lee. "Trace amounts of soil fumigants found in private Haiku water system." The Maui News. (2019).
[click to view]

Other comments:“Present evidence does not indicate that DBCP contamination of drinking water in Hawai`i is likely to present a significant risk to public health… I find that the economic benefit to Hawaiian pineapple growers outweighs the remaining risks associated with the use of DBCP.” EPA Administrator Douglas Costle.
Meta information
Contributor:Arielle Landau, BOLD Fellow at the EJ Atlas and Grettel Navas (ENVJustice Project)
Last update13/10/2021
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