The Kauai Joint Fact Finding Group's draft report on pesticide use — set for release on Sunday — has been delayed until Jan. 6.
Why? Because “Councilmember JoAnn Yukimura has requested we change the public comment period in light of the holidays,” wrote JFFG Facilitator Peter Adler in Update #7.
It's unclear why JoAnn should have any say in the group's proceedings. What's more, her meddling actually works against the public interest. Now folks will have just five days — rather than 22 — to read and digest the document before the JFFG holds a public briefing on it Jan. 11.
Initially, the draft report was due to be posted on line Dec. 20, with public comments taken through Jan. 13. Now it's set for release on Jan. 6, with the public comment period ending Jan. 31. In any case, the briefing remains scheduled for Jan. 11, giving folks precious little time to prepare.
Regardless of the report's timing, it appears the JFFG has found no smoking gun, uncovered no evidence to support the oft-uttered claims that the seed companies are sickening folks on Kauai.
But that hasn't stopped certain interested parties — namely Councilman Gary Hooser — from trying to dredge something up. Last month, he began pressing the county water department to test Kauai's drinking water for the pesticide chlorpyrifos.
Why, you might ask, did Hooser only now make such a request, when it's been known for years that the seed companies apply it? (Golf courses and pest control companies use it, too.) Indeed, Hooser and other anti-GMO activists have fingered chlorpyrifos as the source of numerous human health woes. But they never requested testing until the JFFG, which will also address “Recent Pesticide Developments” concerning glyphosate and chlorpyrifos, is on the eve of releasing its report.
Studies have linked chlorpyrifos to neurological and other development problems, especially when there's prenatal exposure. But the key here is exposure. Hooser and the anti-GMO activists have consistently claimed that westsiders are being harmed by pesticide drift when chlorpyrifos is applied to the fields. This contention has underscored their demands for both disclosure and buffer zones.
Meanwhile, in the real world of science, the EPA has been conducting a review of chlorpyrifos for the past several years. Its studies have effectively undermined the contention that Kauai folks are even being exposed to airborne chlorpyrifos, much less harmed by it. To wit:
To increase protection for children and other bystanders, chlorpyrifos technical registrants voluntarily agreed to lower application rates and to other spray drift mitigation measures. The resulting buffer distances (feet) necessary to reach the level of concern for adults (females 13-49 years old) and children (1 to < 2 years old) with use of certain application rates, nozzle droplet types, and application methods range from 0 to 25 feet.The estimated buffer distances are less than those agreed to by the technical registrants in July 2012.
Furthermore, emphasis added:
In January 2013, a preliminary assessment of the potential risks from chlorpyrifos volatilization was conducted. However, this assessment was revised in June 2014 following submission of two vapor phase inhalation toxicity studies which indicate no adverse effects occurred even at the saturation concentration for chlorpyrifos and chlorpyrifos oxon. Because these new studies demonstrated that no toxicity occurred even at the saturation concentration, which is the highest physically achievable concentration, there are no anticipated risks of concern from exposure to the volatilization of either chlorpyrifos or chlorpyrifos oxon.
It appears, then, that Kauai people are not at risk from either chlorpyrifos drift or volatilization, as has been widely claimed by Hooser and the anti-GMO activists. And with the seed companies voluntarily agreeing to 100-foot buffers, any risk is even further minimized.
So if you're trying to make chlorpyrifos the bad guy, the source of so many health woes among westsiders, you've got to try and find another source of exposure, with food and water the only possible culprits.
The EPA report notes:
Though there do not appear to be any risks from exposure to chlorpyrifos from food, when that exposure is combined with estimated exposure from drinking water in certain watersheds, EPA cannot conclude that the risk from the potential aggregate exposure meets the FFDCA safety standard.
There may be potential risks for people whose drinking water comes from small water systems in heavily farmed areas where chlorpyrifos may be widely used.
Hence, Hooser's request for water testing. Because he's concluded that west Kauai is one of those “vulnerable watersheds."
Is it? Well, according to data from the Good Neighbor program, the seed companies applied chlorpyrifos to about 1500 acres over the past two years. That's less than a tenth of the land they lease and a fraction of the overall westside acreage. Is that an intensive use in a small watershed? The state and county apparently don't think so.
On Nov. 2, Hooser sent a memo to Kirk Saiki, manager and chief engineering of the county Department of Water (DOW). Gary wanted to know if DOW is testing for chlorpyrifos in the county's drinking water. If so, had detectable levels been found, and where? And if not, why not?
Kirk replied that the EPA “has set a guideline for chlorpyrifos in drinking water at 2 ug/l (micrograms per liter or parts per billion), but has not set a drinking water standard likely due to the fact that chlorpyrifos exhibits a low solubility in water.”
DOW does not test for chlorpyrifos, Kirk said, but it did consult with the state Department of Health (DOH) “to determine if there was a concern about chlorpyrifos contamination of the groundwater on Kauai.”
The DOH noted that the largest user of chlorpyrifos is corn, and the organophosphate is applied to the plant, not the ground, so it has more potential to drift than fall to the ground. What's more, it has a short half-life of 51 days. Additionally, a model developed by DOH and the University of Hawaii to predict the leaching potential of chlorpyrifos “shows the chance of groundwater contamination by chlorpyrifos on Kauai to be unlikely.”
Even the EPA is not especially concerned about groundwater. It specifically notes, “exposure to chlorpyrifos-oxon in drinking water derived from surface water may pose an exposure concern.” Kauai drinking water is primarily derived from groundwater sources, except in parts of Lihue.
So why not just go ahead and test? Well, testing costs money, and the water department already tests for dozens of compounds, including atrazine and glyphosate, that it believes are more likely than chlorpyrifos to find their way into water supplies.
In today's The Garden Island, Hooser is quoted as saying, in opposition to a half-percent increase in the general excise tax:
“Experience has taught me that we never have enough money to do what we need to do. I’m looking for other funding options.”
If Hooser sincerely believes the public is at risk from chlorpyrifos, and the county and state are derelict for not testing, perhaps he could convince one of his wealthy donors to pick up the tab. Or maybe HAPA and Center for Food Safety could have paid for some actual tests, rather than send people on a propaganda mission to Switzerland or bring in Vandana Shiva for yet another talk.
But then, why would they waste their own dough on a wild goose chase when they can try to bully public agencies into footing the bill?