As Terry Lilley's discredited report on “chromium toxicity” in Hanalei Bay makes clear, anybody with $29,000 can be a “citizen scientist.” Which raises the question, as the Kauai County Council prepares to reconsider its Environment and Public Health Impacts Study (EPHIS) resolution tomorrow: Why haven't the county or any of the anti-GMO groups done any preliminary pesticide tests?
Or if they have, why haven't the results been publicly released?
I frequently hear the KKCR Surfrider ad claiming that pesticides from the GMO fields are washing into the water and poisoning our reefs. So I'm assuming they must be basing that allegation on some sort of scientific finding. But though I regularly receive the helpful results of Surfrider's monitoring of e-coli bacteria in Kauai streams, I've never seen any reports from anybody but the state on pesticide sampling in rivers or reefs.
I'm not saying it's the job of activists to do this. But given the intensity of the claims they levied about health problems reportedly caused by GMO crops and pesticides, it seems a no-brainer that they'd run a few tests in key locales and share the results to substantiate their allegations. They can't honestly claim poverty. Hawaii Seed, the group behind GMO Free Kauai, got $228,550 from one funder in 2012, and no doubt far more than that last year. And somebody (Mike Sheehan?) is funding Lilley's tests.
The same goes for the County Council, which is now planning to plunk down $110,000 for the initial phase of an EPHIS that, under its current configuration, won't even begin commissioning any studies for at least 18 months. And who knows how long it will be before any meaningful data is presented after that?
Councilman Gary Hooser pushed for an immediate passage of his pesticide/GMO disclosure Bill 2491 (Ordinance 960) in large part because he claimed the westside was experiencing a "health emergency." So how, then, does he reconcile making people wait another two or three years for some solid data on the real risks they're facing?
Why not start with some select samplings, say the water in Waimea River and agricultural ditches, the dust in Waimea homes? Why not put up some of those drift sticks on the edges of fields that border communities to see if pesticides are wafting on the the wind?
In other words, why not collect some hard data?
In other words, why not collect some hard data?
I've heard Gary and other activists say no tests can be done without disclosure, as they wouldn't know what to look for. But attorneys suing Pioneer on behalf of westside residents released that company's pesticide list quite some time ago. We've also got the restricted use pesticide sales records and now the first round of voluntary RUP disclosure.
Surely the county could select some key pesticides from those lists and test for their presence and concentration in the westside environment. That would give all of us some basis for understanding the severity of the threat, the magnitude of the problem and the areas where resources should be focused.
Instead, the Council wants to spend $110,000 to hire a consultant to convene a group of scientific, environmental, economic, cultural and public health experts from our island to merely begin planning an EPHIS, which is supposed to address the following:
Undertake sustained and science-centered deliberations to identify the highest priority environmental and public health questions pertinent to the pesticides used and genetically modified crops grown by large scale commercial agricultural entities on Kauai, and in comparison to the production of other agricultural products; this may include but not be limited to Atrazine, Bifenthrin, Chlorpyrifos (Lorsban), Clothianidin, Glyphosate (Roundup), Paraquat, and '2,4-D.'”
Develop recommendations as to the highest priority questions to be asked, including, but not limited to, preferred methodologies for replicable studies, monitoring and epidemiological analysis, and standards to be used for recommended scientific studies; including the thresholds of safety or danger related to the identified pesticides.”
Oh, and don't forget the bit about “examine and report findings related to issues dealing with economic impacts, food sustainability and environmental justice.”
Again, this EPHIS is based on the assumption that the companies are releasing pesticides into the environment in quantities sufficient to endanger human and environmental health. Which may very well be true. But why not do a bit of scientific sleuthing, first, to see if that's even a solid premise? Wouldn't a few facts help to inform the scope of the EPHIS, attract more state and federal assistance?
Getting back to Lilley, he posted his alarming chromium results on the Ocean Defender Foundation Facebook page on Dec. 26, 2013:
In our first professional round of testing with Test America we found dangerous levels of Chromium in the sediment right off the bowl and in the sediment in the river. I marked it on a pic I took from the helicopter.
I think it is best for the public to decide if these levels of Chromium are OK in Hanalei Bay. You get Chromium poisoning by absorbing it through your skin. Just do the research yourself and connect the dots!
According to Kauai state aquatic biologist Don Heacock and Dr. Roger Brewer, a senior geologist with the Department of Health's Hazard Evaluation and Emergency Response Office, Lilley and his lab analyst connected the dots incorrectly.
Not only are chromium, arsenic and other metals naturally occurring in Hawaii's sediment and soil, the chromium is tightly bound with minerals and not “bioavailable” — in other words, it's not taken up by our bodies, even if you accidentally eat it.
Lilley promised, in the Facebook post:
“If you have scientific information that these levels of Chromium are OK to swim, dive and surf in then please let me know. I will be happy to send them out to everyone.”
But when faced with such scientific information, he still refused to accept it, as reported by The Garden Island:
Lilley said the DO [sic] is being “extremely irresponsible” and failing to address how the metals ended up on the reef in the first place.
“Even if these were natural, we have a health problem that needs to be dealt with,” he said.
No doubt some Councilmembers would agree with Lilley's "reasoning." Never let facts get in the way of pre-conceived notions and hysteria, especially when political and personal gains are to be had.