It's good to see that Dr. Lee Evslin generally supports the state's thoughtful approach to dealing with fears about agricultural pesticide exposure that he helped foment.
But Evslin quickly exposes his ignorance, and his bias, when he asserts:
The new good neighbor policy will call for 100-foot buffers but that is not enough for vulnerable places like schools. California is moving toward quarter-mile buffers around its schools. This issue will come up again in this year’s state legislative session.
It is now very clear that in Hawaii, these rules legally are the responsibility of the state (not the county) and the state needs to do what is right. California has led the country in examining the science behind buffer zones and we need to follow their lead.
Actually, California's proposal to ban crop dusting and many other forms of pesticide spraying within a quarter of a mile of schools and child day-care centers during daylight hours has been criticized precisely because it isn't based in science.
Yeah, it's political, arbitrary and driven by some the same self-serving activist groups, like Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA), that are pushing similar measures in Hawaii. Except they want a one-mile buffer zone.
If Evslin had taken even 15 minutes to research this issue, he would have found that California's proposal followed an appeals court ruling. The judges found that the EPA acted correctly in refusing to institute uniform buffer zones for all pesticides that are registered for application by ground sprayers, broadcast, or aerial application, and that may cause certain human health effects.
The EPA had rejected PANNA's request for across-the-board buffer zones as unscientific and inefficient and likely to result in a misallocation of EPA resources.
The Circuit Court concluded that “substantial evidence” supports EPA’s decision to deny the requested interim relief, stating that “[t]he record suggests that the risk of exposure to pesticide draft depends on a number of factors, including pesticide toxicity, the method of application, the size of pesticide droplets, and weather conditions.”
The judges wrote:
Therefore, substantial evidence supports the EPA's determination that, as a matter of science and policy, the immediate imposition of interim buffer zones is not an appropriate means of mitigating the risk of children's exposure to pesticide drift.
Too bad Evslin didn't educate himself before pushing his own views under the guise of “science.” But then, he already discredited himself on the Joint Fact Finding Group, where he abandoned science in his tortured attempts to show a connection between westside illnesses like diabetes and alcoholism and pesticide exposure.
Though Evslin, various politicians and anti-GMO groups like Center for Food Safety, PANNA and Babes Against Biotech have tried to portray agricultural pesticide exposure as a serious health concern in Hawaii, they have yet to present any evidence that pesticides used by the seed companies are either drifting from the fields in any meaningful amounts or making anyone sick.
Even the Syngenta field worker exposure case, which Evslin cites as an example of how the feds are cracking down, did not result in anyone being sickened, or even exhibiting symptoms. Several workers were held overnight for observation because they had been eating, drinking and smoking after entering a field where pesticides had been applied, and doctors wanted to be sure they hadn't ingested any toxic materials.
Furthermore, a federal study of drift poisoning carried out in 11 states, including California, which uses far more agricultural pesticides than Hawaii, found that drift poisoning is relatively uncommon:
To our knowledge, this is the first comprehensive report of drift-related pesticide poisoning in the United States. We identified 643 events involving 2,945 illness cases associated with pesticide drift from outdoor agricultural applications during 1998–2006.
So they documented 2,945 illnesses over eight years in 11 states, with aerial applications, which are no longer used in Hawaii, responsible for 39 percent of the events. What's more, the “illness severity was low for most cases (92%).” Nobody died. Given those figures, what's the likelihood that Hawaii folks are being poisoned by ag pesticide drift? Not very high.
Meanwhile, compare those pesticide stats to the record 52,404 Americans who died from drug overdoses — 80 percent due to misuse of opioids — in 2015. These preventable deaths are now more common than automobile fatalities, gun-inflicted homicides and suicides.
And compare it to the 796 drug poisoning deaths reported in Hawaii between 2010-14, the 743 deaths from falls in that same time period, the 614 motor vehicle fatalties, the 604 suffication deaths, the 385 drownings, the 271 shooting deaths, the 84 poisonings, the 66 deaths from cuts and stabbings, the 32 fatalities from fire and burns.
Yes, as Evslin writes, pesticides “are universally acknowledged as toxic.” But that doesn't mean their agricultural use constitutes a health risk in Hawaii.
It's too bad Evslin didn't use his column to address the very real threats to the health and welfare of Hawaii residents — threats that would better warrant the use of funds and fury now being diverted to manufactured concerns around farm pesticides.
But then, that might have required Evslin to do a tiny bit of research, rather than just present his own biased opinion as fact.
Or since Evslin looks at California as a leader, it's unfortunate he didn't take the opportunity to cite a new report from that state's Department of Pesticide Regulation — the same agency proposing the school buffer zone — to reassure readers that fruits and veggies are safe.
In 2015, the California DPR collected 3,600 samples of more than 145 different fruits and vegetables, organic and conventional, domestically grown and imported fruit and vegetable commodities. The results:
• 39.8% had no pesticide residues detected
• 55.8% had one or more detected pesticide residues less than or equal to established tolerances. As in recent years, the majority of these samples had residues at less (usually much less) than 10% of the tolerance level
• 1.2% had one or more illegal pesticide residues in excess of established tolerances
• 3.1% had one or more illegal residues of pesticides not approved for use on the commodities analyzed
Of the organic produce sampled, 83.5 percent had no pesticide residue, 11.8 percent had pesticide residues at levels allowed by organic standards, 2.4 percent had residue levels not allowed under organic standards but accepted under conventional standards and .6 percent has unacceptable residue standards.
The California assessment mirrors the findings of a similar national study, which found that “overall pesticide residues found on foods tested are at levels below the tolerances established by the EPA and pose no safety concern."