Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Musings: Citizen Scientists

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?

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.


Anonymous said...

Gary Hooser:

People on Kauai are getting sick. Local physicians testify their patients have ten times the national rate of certain rare birth defects. Sea urchins have died off and students and teachers at local schools located adjacent to heavily sprayed fields have been taken to the hospital.


Fern said...

I agree that we should be getting adequate lab testing done! Problem is - there are no local labs and the costs are incredibly expensive for good lab analysis and samples need to be taken in a very specific way, preserved and overnighted to lab.

Narrowing down specific locations and things to sample for could help lower costs.

Would be awesome to have a group dedicated to working on this. I have been trained in environmental monitoring and sampling but would definitely need to review my notes and specifics, on preservation of samples mostly. I could take and prepare the samples for the lab (which would lower costs), but it would probably be better (and more widely accepted) if an independent consultant did those samples. Wouldn't you agree?

I have been talking about this since I have been home and trying to get support for it, and as you pointed out some people are trying, but the reality is it's harder and more expensive than you would expect to get good accurate results and you really need to know what your looking for.

Anonymous said...

Chromium, cadmium, arsenic and lead. I do not know of ANY fertilizer brand which includes any of these ingredients! Therefore, from a brief chemical science background, I would suggest that we need to look for another generator than the ag industry.

Anonymous said...

How has it come to pass that corporations now have a stronger influence on the health of Americans than public health officials, doctors or hospitals?"

Anonymous said...

I do not trust the activist's statistics.

I do not trust the multinational corporation's statistics.

I trust the Kauai pediatricians who testified about what they see on Kauai.

Dow/Syngenta, Pioneer doing a good job about diverting this to being about hating on Hooser or Bynum or hippies and realtors…. but I just replaying that doctor testimony about all the birth defects. And I think all about the poor birds that eat the pesticide sprayed bugs.

Anonymous said...

No doctor testified that pesticides were causing birth defects.

Anonymous said...

They're naturally occurring in volcanic soils.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it is true that doctors on Kauai have testified about birth defects and cancers on Kauai, but there is no study which can verify these claims.

While there is a positive correlation between increase in GMO foods and cancers, there is also a positive correlation between use of organic foods and autism. Yes, it is as ridiculous as it sounds: correlation is not causation.

There was a doctor on Kauai, who still believed in, and vehemently defended the Serilini study, that feeding rats GMO food caused cancer, which has since been widely discredited and debunked, and insisted that the evidence in the study is "anecdotally statistically significant." There are also doctors on Kauai and elsewhere who have testified that GMO foods cause cancer, when the vast majority of the scientific community shows no such link.

As Amy Harmon of the New York Times pointed out, it is a confounding contradiction that so called liberal people who are anti-GMO, go crazy when confronted with people who do not believe in global warming.


The scientific community overwhelmingly believes that global warming is real, just as the scientific community believes that GMO foods are safe. Where is the disconnect--why do liberal thinkers believe in science in one case, and not in another? Doctors who are avowed anti-GMO, prescribe medicines/drugs which are GMO derived, yet condemn GMO foods? Why do we call GMO foods "Frankenfoods" and don't call GMO drugs "Frankenvaccines" or "Frankenmedicines"?

What a strange contradiction and hypocrisy that the anti-GMO movement is using the very same tactics as the global warming deniers.

Regarding pesticides, Joan is spot on: directed studies need to be done to test for the alleged poisons to verify the levels. This is exactly what the "consultant" will conclude--for $110,000!

Anonymous said...

Joan you must have missed this TGI article in September. We should see results soon. http://thegardenisland.com/news/local/pesticide-tests-to-begin-on-kauai/article_65bc8a3c-2742-11e3-ab92-0019bb2963f4.html Maybe there was a delay on the atrazine task force due to the loss of tragic Loretta Fuddy.

Also, there were citizen tests done to confirm the presence of several pesticides including atrazine, however the low cost test indicate only the presence, not the level of contamination.

The more advanced testing methods that can test for multiple chemicals in a single sample are very expensive and you would want to confirm all chemicals before initiating testing or risk omitting some, in addition to the points Fern made about preserving the samples.

Anonymous said...

Sugar/Corn growers have been using their chemicals for decades. Strange brew, only after the anti-GMO fatalists start singing their anti-Monsanto (even if there is no Kauai Monsanto) ballads in harmony with the dynamic tubby duo of Bynam/Hooser, did a couple of Docs start whining about birth defects and apocalyptic horrors of westside Ag etc. Where are their letters to DOH, CDC and EPA? Docs can get limp wristy emotional, but to cry in public and not perform their ethical, moral and professional duty to Report ANY spike of illness is BS at its best.
What the west side,the epicenter of all of these cataclysmic diseases, really needs, are more elderly care homes to take care of the many elderly who have been eating, swimming and breathing the cancerous air and water for 80 plus years.....
BTW- the big land owners test the water frequently, but why should they share any results with the nut-job Council who is out to take their land. Facts, Ma'am, jus' the facts.

Anonymous said...

aSpeaking of double standards, as long as pakalolo remains illegal because there are not studies to prove it is safe, GMO Co. should be stuck with the same reasoning.

Upton Sinclaire said, " “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

Anonymous said...

Good try. Except that's not why pakalolo is illegal.

Anonymous said...

The groundswell against genetically modified food has rankled many scientists, who argue that opponents of G.M.O.s have distorted the risks associated with them and underplayed the risks of failing to try to use the technology to improve how food is grown. Wading into a debate that has more typically pitted activists against industry, some have argued that opposition from even small pockets of an American elite influences investment in research and the deployment of genetically modified crops, particularly in the developing world, where hunger raises the stakes.

Scientists, who have come to rely on liberals in political battles over stem-cell research, climate change and the teaching of evolution, have been dismayed to find themselves at odds with their traditional allies on this issue. Some compare the hostility to G.M.O.s to the rejection of climate-change science, except with liberal opponents instead of conservative ones.

How fair is this comparison? On first glance there appear to be some distinctions worth making. Global warming is potentially an existential threat to humanity, while genetic engineering of crops is not. Liberals who oppose genetic engineering have not engaged in the same type of smear campaigns against engineering supporters, and modern liberalism doesn't pride itself in the same way on the rejection of mainstream science. And yet, as Harmon details, liberal activists have engaged in scaremongering and making wild claims, sometimes often about engineering companies. And although genetic engineering may not be on par with the survival of the human race, it is potentially an issue with huge implications for global hunger and malnutrition. (As Harmon writes, "In the Philippines, protesters, citing safety concerns, ripped up a test field of rice genetically engineered to address Vitamin A deficiency among the world’s poor.")

But this still leaves one vast difference. This story, a news piece which is also pleasingly one-sided (as the evidence demands), is appearing in the most important liberal publication in the country. The liberals who rant about genetically modified food may be pushing a point of view that is objectively as crazy as believing carbon emissions are not causing global warming; but liberals are still more likely (and willing) to get their news from places that tell them the truth. For conservatives who like to claim that Fox News is just a conservative version of The New York Times, ask yourselves this: Could you imagine Fox News running a big, one-sided piece that overwhelmingly discredited global warming deniers? Of course not. (The Times ran another excellent genetically modified food piece last year, also written by Amy Harmon.)

This probably goes some way in explaining why the modern Republican Party and conservative movement frequently seem so much crazier than mainstream liberalism. It's not that people are simply and inherently crazy; they also operate from within crazy bubbles, which is arguably just as dangerous. For this reason, my guess is that over time liberal opposition to genetic engineering will fade away. I wish the same could be said about right-wing opposition to any type of scheme for containing carbon emissions.

Anonymous said...

Gary Hooser should have added this to his scientific and honest letter to the Leg posted on his Blog.
“Reality depresses me. I need to find fantasy worlds and escape in them.”
Really- Gary might be OK, but what an experienced liar he is.
The Senate already knows his techniques, but to have this kind of person driving the Kauai County bus is a joke (Jay acquiesced power to Gary, Jay lost his huevos long ago)

Anonymous said...

Joan, over the years I have come to appreciate your writing so much. Thank you. The anti-GMO/pesticide ordinance was at best the cart before the horse. We should have defined the problem and then tried to address it. Hooser should have, but did not, even attempt to work cooperatively with the seed companies to address community concerns. This ludicrous mess is what we're left with. Are there pesticides in the environment? Of course there are...from homeowner use, termite treatments, golf courses, invasive species control, roadside use, along with farmers' uses. Is this a problem for human or environmental health? Unlikely, given the probable minute amounts and the toxicology of the compounds out there. DOH is currently conducting pesticide sampling but due to costs, it is limited and will only provide a snapshot picture of what pesticides may be in the environment. Because of state of the art, very low detection levels, small amounts of pesticides will likely be found. Hopefully DOH will help the community put the numbers into perspective so they are meaningful. There seems to be no public understanding of basic chemistry or risk analysis so it's hard to imagine that anyone will be satisfied with what the science will show.

Anonymous said...

Corporate writer.

The physicians said pesticides are toxic. Unbelievable, SeedCo. wants you to think they are healthy. Take a second and think about the shit they are peddling.

Anonymous said...

I really cannot believe in this late stage there is someone still uninformed enough and willing to share their ever so naive two cents about how we should have all sat down with the seed companies to "talk abut it"!!!! Really! Are you that out of touch? Did you not watch the council meeting where the company reps were dead silent when asked simple direct questions? Unbelievable the audacity of some of the seed company employees to fabricate their own truths. SMH

Anonymous said...

If you are a sheep and a wolf comes your door, you do not invite him into dinner. Corn/Chem should not have even gone to the gonzo council meeting and waited until a subpena was served.
Chem/Corn and the county could have come together. It would have taken a reasonable person to do the negotiating for the County, Hooser and Bynam are historically anti-Big Ag, anti-PMRF, anti Hotel, anti- any development, they are anti BUSINESS.
They do not understand that locals have to work and that Kauai's economy is a multifaceted beast with tourism at the center.
For angry Gary to condemn Big Agro for suing the County is joke, everyone knew it was coming.
Yo' man, Timmy can sue over trivia, but when a poorly written law "takes" from land owners it is a bad thing......wake up, this suit will go deep and unless the County comes to sanity, we all will suffer, errr I mean the taxpayer......but shucks, who cares about the taxpayer, they probably work for a big business, so they are bad anyway.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, what's a little pesticide between friends? breathe deep and shut the f*** up

Anonymous said...

Actually- Recently discovered really really scientific tests have proven that Kauai has a gazillion more faddists, a gajillion more hypocrites and an infinite supply of newcomer crazy "we didn't do it that way in Cali" bullies than any place in the whole wide world.
All of the chemical companies combined use a fraction of the hard core chemicals used on Kauai. Not to mention, Roundup by the container load being sold every month...Time to get off the Tonto speak "what you mean we, Kimosabe?" and bring all factions to the table.

Anonymous said...

After game quaterbacks are everywhere----for me, i am just glad there is something happening that brings attention to the biotechs. Waimea has not been notified about what Pioneer is spraying on the fields above the Waimea River. What's happening to the good neighbor plan?
Syngenta has given us info on a weekly basis via email. You who are so critical about us, who are having a bad time with dust/pesticides, don't understand what it's like to ask for help and cooperation for the past 13 years and get shoved aside! Cough, cough---gotta go to the doctor now!

Anonymous said...

then what's the problem with the pesticide companies disclosing what they spray when they spray and where they spray? time to breathe deep and shut the f*** up

Anonymous said...

5:20pm--read good! Pioneer doesn't tell us where and what they are spraying! Syngenta does a better job at informing their neighbors! And, no need get mad, no need use swear words---whoa laulau, get some kaukau and relax! But, read good too and no assume stuff! Aloha

Anonymous said...

January 22, 2014 at 12:51 PM,

Because a meeting of the Kauai County Star Chamber is the perfect venue for the discussion of complex, emotional topics.

Anonymous said...

January 22, 2014 at 7:27 PM:
My comment was directed at those who say that it's all in the imagination and we can trust the pesticide companies, who tell us no worry, stop complaining and breath deep. Even if the dust isn't laden with restricted use pesticides, wtf? (sorry for the profanity)

Anonymous said...

Nobody not even the seed companies are saying that. We're saying don't exaggerate and make stuff up like you just did.

Anonymous said...