Two state agencies and the U.S. Geological Survey are teaming up to test for pesticides in surface water and sediment throughout Hawaii.
Approximately 24 stream locations representing four different land uses will be sampled statewide. Eight of the sites are on Kauai. Another eight sites are on Oahu, six are on the Big Island and two are on Maui.
According to a fact sheet from the state Department of Health, which is leading the “snapshot” study in partnership with the Department of Agriculture and USGS:
The State of Hawaii has no ongoing stream monitoring program for pesticides and consequently there is very little information available to evaluate whether current pesticide use practices are resulting in off-site movement of pesticides into state waters. The data from this pilot study will provide preliminary information on the presence or absence of pesticide residue levels in surface waters. The results will be compared to water quality standards, environmental action levels and other state and federal guidelines, to provide a mechanism to rate risks of differing compounds detected.
The samples are being collected from locations that are most likely to reflect pesticide usage and impacts, including monoculture crops (seed corn, sugar, mac nuts, coffee); mixed use ag (taro, veggies, papaya, banana, ornamentals); golf courses and resorts that use pesticides for landscaping; and mixed urban and residential.
The sampling will focus on perennial streams adjacent to or downstream from the pesticide usage areas. In areas without perennial streams, anchialine pools, wetlands and lagoons that have storm overflow to the ocean and agricultural drainage systems will be tested.
DOH personnel have collected nearly all the samples of surface water and sediment, and USGS labs on the mainland will test them for more than 100 different pesticides. Water and sediment from up to six sites will be tested for glyphosate (Roundup) “due to community concern about use and fate of this herbicide,” the fact sheet states. Testing is expected to take two to three months.
The Garden Island touched on this statewide sampling in Sunday's article on the atrazine study, which I reported way back on Dec. 26. Unfortunately, though TGI has been quick to report allegations of pesticide-related illnesses, the reporter failed to include some crucial data from the atrazine report.
Though 293 pesticide complaints were made statewide between 2010 and 2013 — just 42 were from Kauai — “less than half are due to agricultural activities.” Yet Bill 2491/Ordinance 960 targeted only ag activities for pesticide disclosure and buffer zones.
TGI also failed to report that the atrazine study included a summary of calls to the Hawaii Poison Center:
Of the 4,800 human pesticide exposure calls, approximately 90% of the exposures occurred in a residence, 4.4% in the workplace and 1% in a school. The remaining 4% consisted of miscellaneous locations (i.e., other/unknown, public areas, health care facilities, and food service.)
At least 90 percent of the exposures caused no or minimal health effects. There were three deaths. None of the pesticide complaints were linked to atrazine exposures.
I recently spoke with Barbara Brooks, the state toxicologist, who said some Kauai County Council members had asked the DOH to “biomonitor people for pesticide residue,” which she said is “very resource-intensive.” It's typically been done only in Superfund sites, and by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).
Hawaii farm workers are regularly tested for pesticide poisoning, including organophosphates and heavy metals like mercury, arsenic and lead, she said. But DOH isn't seeing evidence of poisoning even among workers with direct exposure.
“I believe we should be putting our resources into making sure pesticides are applied properly,” said Brooks, noting the overwhelming majority of pesticide exposure calls originated from residential use.
Dr. Carl Berg of the Kauai chapter of the Surfrider Foundation termed the statewide pesticide sampling now under way a “great study.” Though the organization has done some pesticide sampling in the past, he said, “Surfrider won't continue its testing until the results are available from the DOH study, so that the tests will most accurately assess the presence of pesticides in the environment."
But no matter how many tests are done, some folks will remain unconvinced. Blogger Andy Parx dismissed the atrazine study as “lies, damnable lies and statistics,” though he offered nothing to refute it. And Terry Lilley, refusing to accept that the chromium, arsenic and other metals he found in ocean sediment are naturally occurring in Kauai's volcanic soil, wrote in an email:
Weather [sic] or not the heavy metals are "natural" they should not be out on the reef in the first place!
I'm not sure how he proposes to stop the islands from eroding. Even “home rule” won't halt that act of nature.