Sunday, June 5, 2016

Musings: Dismissed

A front-page article in today's The Star-Advertiser makes it clear that state health and agriculture officials have little regard for the $175,000 Joint Fact Finding report on pesticides.

They dismissed many of the recommendations as impractical, expensive, unlikely to be useful and in some cases, exceeding state expertise and authority.

They also pointed out the group's bias. Here are key excerpts from the piece:

There is an obvious disconnect between what the document reports and shows and what the recommendations are,” said Fenix Grange, program manager for the Hawaii Department of Health’s Hazard Evaluation and Emergency Response Office. “Truly, there is no smoking gun in the report for health or environmental impacts.”

Group members reviewed health statistics on low birth weight babies, birth defects, autism, development delays in children, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and other disabilities, cancer, obesity and diabetes — all of which have shown some association with various pesticides. There were no statistically significant differences in illness rates for west side Kauai residents and residents across the island or statewide.

For example, 7 percent of babies in Waimea, on Kauai’s west side, had a low birth weight, compared to 8 percent of babies statewide in 2012.

Cancer rates on Kauai, including the west side, were also similar to or significantly lower than the rest of state, according to 2000-2009 data from the Hawaii Tumor Registry.

Because of the small population size on Kauai’s west side, it’s difficult for data to reflect any slight increases in illnesses or disabilities. Still, the birth defect and cancer data are particularly meaningful, said Barbara Brooks, the state toxicologist, who also works in the hazard evaluation office.

If there was an unusual number of cancers on the west side, the (tumor registry) would have picked it up,” she said.

Group members also reviewed hundreds of pages of reports, including 15 sampling studies done on Kauai, related to pesticides in the environment. The reports showed some evidence of pesticide migration, but mostly at trace amounts. Most of the pesticides are believed to be from chemicals used decades ago on sugar cane fields.

A statewide stream study did find levels of atrazine and metolachlor downstream of Kauai seed crop operations that were below regulatory standards, but were slightly above aquatic life benchmarks.
Given the data that we have, we don’t see a big issue,” said Grange.

Grange said that the department isn’t convinced that the long-term soil and dust sampling recommended in the report would be productive.

We would not support those measures,” she said.

Given the concern among Kauai residents about pesticide drift, she said the department is planning to do some additional, but limited, air studies to try to confirm past studies that show the air is safe.
The Health Department is also planning to do a statewide surface water study on pesticides, but Grange noted this wasn’t spurred by the findings in the report.

The state does not have a monitoring program for pesticides in water,” said Grange. “We should be able to know and tell the public whether our surface water meets standards for health and the environment.”

Bruce Anderson, the administrator for the Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Aquatic Resources, also said that the group’s recommendations seemed exaggerated given the report’s findings. [Bruce previously worked with facilitator Peter Adler on the JFF.]

The bottom line was that there were no problems found and it is hard to justify the extraordinary expense involved in long-term monitoring of air, water and other exposures to pesticides,” Anderson said. “There is nothing really unique about the west side of Kauai. It’s an agricultural area, pretty much the same as other agricultural areas.”

He added, “I think they dug deep to try to find problems, but didn’t find any. To their credit, they did look.”

Anderson said all of the monitoring recommended in the report would likely cost millions of dollars a year.

The report recommended that the state allocate $3 million to initiate the effort and tax all pesticide sales in the state to help pay for ongoing testing.

He said that as far as he is aware, DLNR is planning to do water sampling only at Mana Plain, a wetland bird sanctuary on Kauai’s west side that may be at risk of pesticide contamination from the seed corn fields.

Anderson is also a former Department of Health director and served as a member of the joint fact finding group for a short time before leaving to head the aquatics division. He has a doctorate in biomedical sciences, epidemiology and biostatistics.

Anderson and other state officials also said Hawaii doesn’t have the resources to revise EPA standards relating to long-term pesticide exposure, as recommended in the report.

The EPA “has toxicologists who spend their lives doing these kinds of studies and they are constantly reevaluating the data,” he said.

Scott Enright, director of the Department of Agriculture, said that he planned to review all of the recommendations and noted that the department had already begun implementing some of them. But he expressed concerns that the group’s report was laced with bias against genetically modified organisms, or GMOs.

The study, commissioned by the Department of Agriculture and Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho, grew out of heated protests in 2013 over Kauai County Council Bill 2491, now Ordinance 960, which increased regulatory oversight of the seed companies operating on Kauai. The law was later overturned by the courts and is currently on appeal in the 9th Circuit.

The bill sparked emotional social media campaigns and protest marches led by anti-GMO activists and residents concerned about pesticide use. Activists accused the seed corn companies of “poisoning paradise,” and some residents testifying on Bill 2491 warned of west side cancer clusters and elevated rates of birth defects.

The study was aimed at cutting through the heated rhetoric and exploring the existing data.
The group was originally composed of nine volunteer members from diverse backgrounds, including two doctors, an organic farmer, other residents with science backgrounds, and scientists who had affiliations with the biotech industry.

But by the time the final report was released, three members with ties to the biotech industry [actually, only two had biotech ties, the third was independent] had resigned in protest. They, in part, complained that the other group members’ work wasn’t based on scientific evidence and was misleading.

Enright said that the remaining group members were largely supportive of Bill 2491, which is reflected in the report.

They were sure that there were problems, both human health and environmental on Kauai,” he said. “At the end, the group was dominated by supporters of 2491, people who had a bias, and that is fine. And the bias was that they are going to find something when they looked and they didn’t. And that is significant for the department.”

Adam Asquith, a member of the group and a Kauai extension specialist at the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program, said that any suggestion that the group was biased was wrong.

That is mind blowing and totally off base,” he said.

Asquith said that he stood by the recommendations and emphasized that the few samples showing elevated levels of atrazine and metolachlor were significant.

That is a gigantic red flag,” he said.

Finding trace levels is a "gigantic red flag? That's the kind of hysterical hyperbole that fueled the 2491 debate and, unfortunately, carried over into the JFF process. Fortunately, state officials have seen through it. 

And given the way Enright used his platform at the Board of Ag meeting last week to scold Hawaii Center for Food Safety Director Ashley Lukens for her group's fear-mongering, it appears they're unlikely to indulge these antics any longer.


Anonymous said...

Thank you. Joan
Great article.
“I think they dug deep to try to find problems, but didn’t find any. To their credit, they did look.”
Looking for love in all the wrong places.

Anonymous said...

Emporer Hooser has no clothes.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to Joan for summarizing the Honolulu Star-Advertiser's article, also to Sophie Cocke for writing a fair and well balanced story! Civil Beat...time for some lessons from Ms. Cocke and the 'tiser!

Anonymous said...

Of course, the Fisti’s cannot accept anything that does not endorse their preconceptions of wholesale pesticide poisoning; the avenue they took to battle their real demon: GE foods. They’ve invested so much time, money and emotions to spread the unfounded claims that we are being poisoned by pesticides that to admit they were wrong and loose face is downright impossible for them to fathom. It would mean that their cause to run the seed companies out of town is a fraud and a failure.

Anonymous said...

History will prove you Chem - Cheeleaders wrong just as it did asbestos insulation, lead paint, cigarettes, radium, ...

Anonymous said...

If only people would read, agree, change their minds, and stop. But they won't.

Anonymous said...

We are lucky to have such competent State agencies looking out for us. Bahahaha

Anonymous said...

I'll put my faith in the government agencies over the fistees any day of the week.

Joan Conrow said...

@9:38 Chem cheerleaders? No, we're BS busters.

Unknown said...

How great is that? Leaders in our state agencies responsible for regulating the issues in the JFF report stated the obvious - the recommendations are based on invalid assumptions and are not justified based on the findings. Some refreshing critical thinking emerges above all the noise.

It is also very likely that the appeals court will soon dismiss the counties bills across the state trying to impose their own rules on GM crops and pesticide regulation, which would make the counties a combined 0 for 6. A nice bagel.

KauaiFinn said...

If accepting scientific evidence is being a "chem-cheerleader," then I'll raise my Pom Poms with pride!

Anonymous said...

So where's the all mighty Waimea Kauai cheerleader? Oh no comment?

Anonymous said...

The state of Hawaii has just as much unqualified employees as the counties do and it's a sad mess.

If they were doing their jobs in the first place then none of this would have come about.

This is hog wash compared to the criminal incompetence that happened during the Ka Loko dam breach but they pointed the finger at each other and never accepted respinsibility. Did anyone know that no county or state employee was led accountable? They got away and 8 people and an unborn child lost their lives because of both the state and county of Kauai criminal negligence.

What's the county of Kauai and state of Hawaii's excuse/rebuttal?

Hooser and the county went at it the wrong way. They paid greed to do the study Instead of using qualified orgs that have experience in the toxic pesticide matters.

This is like the front that Yukimura puts out about the county needing 10 million every year to fix the roads on Kauai. Well the county's budget has risen 10 million every year since it was at 120 million and what have they done with that budget increases? Yet the county say they built bus shelters, fixed the Kilauea gym, made hardy st and rice st bike rider friendly, and they built a 150 million dollar bike path. Well the county says it needs 100 million to fix all the roads then why did they waste 150 million on a bike path? And why did they waste 10 million on hardy st? Why are they going to waste another 10 million on rice st to make it smaller and more congested like hardy st? Then plant plants to subcontract another friend/relative to do the job that 1500 county employees can't do? Yes the county is paying another friend/relative of the mayor to keep the hardy st mess not so messy; like he did with the Princeville shuttle that was paid 150K for 3 months of rides from hotels to ke'e beach/Kamalani trail subsidized by the tax payers of Kauai like the stupid Wailua golf course that costs 2-3 million in the red for a few of Kauai wannabe Tiger woods. Why did the county say it would cost 2 million to fix Kilauea's gym roof? Why did they budget to build bus shelters at 80K for each and everyone of those probably 5-10K shelters and only what 10 or so is built in the 8 years since proposal? Why did the county fund a private business 150K for 3 months? What are they buying or spending that it's costing 200 million to operate a incompetent government? Why is a KPD officer receiving over 250K salary that's based on overtime, when the chief's salary is 115K? The KPD chief and his boy toy goes in front of the police commission once a month and none of this raises red flags? Well wouldn't a reserve force wouldn't have taken away the millions in overtimes and also the 4-5 hour grid locks because there's no competent qualified traffic investigator on island.

The dog and pony show is all pau. The working people of Kauai are sick of their games. It's time to make an example of these crooks.

Unknown said...

Coming up in less than two week: SHAKA's appeal in Circuit Court. Are the Antis ready to loss again 3 X the money?

Anonymous said...

Yes it is tragic that people lost lives in the dam issue, but where is the outrage at the landowner that allowed a unpermitted structure to be built in a drainage setback zone and to let people live in it.

You can look the other way and blame a big agency, but you also need to look at ALL the issues involved, not cherrypick what makes you look good.

Joan Conrow said...

To the anonymous who keeps leaving hateful (unpublished) comments: Gosh, it must be so painful to feel such hatred toward someone you don't even know! Wow, I can't even imagine how messed up you'd have to be to waste an entire beautiful day writing vitriol. My heart goes out to you. Maybe you could volunteer, adopt a puppy, get therapy or do something else to turn your sad, sick outlook around. Good luck to you.

Anonymous said...

Bradley...could you please read what you've typed before you hit send? Bozo.

Anonymous said...

5:45 could you please think before you press send?

Anonymous said...

iPhone and Samsung auto correct sucks. It doesn't work like MS Word.

No one proof reads nowadays.

Anonymous said...

Please don't adopt a puppy!

Anonymous said...

Lucky we get such unbiased state government agencies!

Anonymous said...

The very essence of the "fact finding process" was never realized. I am sure as many others have come to the conclusion that this process was NOT about finding out the facts and reporting but rather how they can prove what they already concluded as a problem. I am truly upset that we have spent $175,000. I am glad that even with their bias they have admitted that they can find no proof of a problem. Given that conclusion I say get off your white horse and start farming, or get off your ass, because you are no white knight, but rather a silly man on a donkey.

Anonymous said...

Mahalo Joan for the wonderful blogs. How else are we to keep abreast of what's going on in our Kauai. The JFFG did all of us a favor. Now we know that we don't need them for another 5 to 10 years. Yes we did spend $175,000. We should learn from this lesson. Say no more...............