‘Poisoning Paradise’ Paints Portrait of Pollution

Keely Shaye Brosnan, creator of “Poisoning Paradise,” before a screening in Malibu this weekend.

Local residents Pierce and Keely Shaye Brosnan spoke briefly before a screening of their documentary film “Poisoning Paradise” in Malibu Saturday. Pierce noted that they care deeply about Hawaii—the location where the documentary was shot—because they have resided there part-time for many years with their sons. Over the years, the Brosnans became aware of pesticide poisoning in Kauai and the idea for the documentary was born.

The premise of the documentary could be summed up by this Earthjustice statement, “Hawaii has quietly undergone an agricultural revolution whereby chemical companies treat the islands as pesticide-testing grounds for GE (genetically engineered) crops, but communities are fighting back.”

“What’s happening on our island is just a microcosm of what’s happening in the rest of the world,” Keely Shaye noted, obviously passionate about the subject. 

Her purpose in making this documentary was to create awareness of the situation and effect change. “We’ve been picking up steam all around the county,” she said. “And I’m going to help this movement build.”

Filmmakers Keely Shaye Brosnan and Teresa Tico, along with Executive Producer Pierce Brosnan, screened their award-winning documentary “Poisoning Paradise” to a good-sized crowd at the 2018 Malibu International Film Festival. The film has been making the rounds of the film festival circuit over the past year, screening at 18 festivals and winning seven awards. The next stop is Geneva.

As the film points out, the once pristine islands of Hawaii, home to many species of plants and animals found nowhere else on earth, have now become a favorite place for large agricultural and chemical companies like Monsanto to experiment on new kinds of genetically modified plants and seeds (GMOs), and then see whether the modified plants can still withstand chemical cocktails of restricted general-use pesticides sprayed 250-300 days a year, 10-16 times a day, near schools, homes, hospitals and environmentally sensitive shorelines.

Hawaii has been used as a testing ground for dangerous chemicals for decades. Buying up farms that were previously used to raise sugar cane and pineapples, big companies tested DDT on crops there in the ‘50s, resulting in the contamination of groundwater in several communities. In the ‘60s, large areas of native vegetation were later denuded with Agent Orange, which was being tested as a defoliant in the Vietnam War. The Hawaiian government was attempting to diversify its economy.

There have been documented instances of pesticide sprays being carried by breezes onto school grounds and children becoming sick and hospitalized. The students cannot even be properly treated because the chemical companies refuse to disclose what chemicals they’re using. 

Other studies have shown that the chemicals being used cause shorter gestation in pregnant women, lower birth weights, babies with lower IQs, asthma and other respiratory problems.   

“Poisoning Paradise” was meticulously researched, and showed the frustrating futility in trying to get regulations passed in Hawaii. It documents local activists, political corruption, corporate bullying and systematic concealment by the agrichemical industry.

The chemical companies give generously to local and state politicians and, as a result, no regulations have ever been successfully passed in the state—not even establishing barrier zones next to schools or identifying what chemicals are being used. 

Some studies have identified atrazine as one of a number of harmful chemicals being used, which is known to affect the architecture of a developing brain and therefore affects children. 

The film points out there are only a few hundred jobs created by the GMO agriculture industry, and its overall contribution to the state’s economy is just a drop in the bucket compared to tourism—a $15 billion per year industry, according to Keely Shaye. Therefore, the only thing that might finally motivate the state to do something is if pesticide use begins to threaten tourism. 

“I grew up in Oahu and I feel a deep commitment to helping this community,” Keely Shaye said after the film. “A lot of people interviewed in the film were very brave and have spoken at their own peril. The chemical companies say they have to do this research so they can ‘feed the world,’ but they’re really just feeding their own pocketbooks.” None of the chemical companies would agree to be interviewed.

“As Dr. Sylvia Earle says in the film, these experiments should be done in closed systems like sealed greenhouses, not out in the open,” Keely Shaye said. “We have to demand information from the national birth defect registry.”

For now, she said about all the average person can do is vote with their pocketbooks by buying organic at the store.