Testing planned to improve data on state pesticide use
Surface water on Oahu and Kauai will be tested for pesticides in a $500,000 study as a way to address ongoing concerns about restricted-use pesticide exposure, state officialssaid Wednesday.
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Surface water on Oahu and Kauai will be tested for pesticides in a $500,000 study as a way to address ongoing concerns about restricted-use pesticide exposure, state officials said Wednesday.
In addition, the state will implement a program that requires biotech companies statewide to report pesticide use monthly, notify neighbors when spraying is happening, and create buffer zones between farms and residents.
The initiatives are part of a series of projects being launched largely in response to the recommendations of the Kauai Joint Fact-Finding Report, commissioned in early 2015 by the state Department of Agriculture and Kauai County.
Completing its work in May, the study group, a team of nine Kauai residents with science backgrounds, found no substantial evidence that pesticides harm plants, animals or humans.
The group, nevertheless, called on state regulators to increase pesticide regulations to strengthen environmental, agricultural and health data collection, and to establish new standards for exposure. The report suggested spending $3 million on those efforts.
“I want to assure the community we take their concerns very seriously,” Health Director Dr. Virginia Pressler said at a Honolulu news conference Wednesday. “The data don’t show any direct effects on the environment. However, we are not satisfied with the data we have.”
To that end, one of the major efforts planned is to contract with the U.S. Geological Survey to conduct a water-quality monitoring project over two years.
Surface water on Oahu and Kauai will be sampled for pesticides before and during storms to evaluate whether pesticides are on the move and at what level.
Water samples from
13 sites on Oahu and 12 on Kauai will be tested for 250 pesticides or pesticide-related chemicals, including 13 of the top 15 restricted-use pesticides sold in the state, said Steve Anthony with the U.S. Geological Survey.
The state Department of Health will provide technical and scientific assistance in the state-funded project, with initial results expected to be released after the first year.
Scott Enright, chairman of the state Board of Agriculture, said the department is already moving to improve its ability to respond to pesticide incidents. He said the department has reduced a backlog of investigations from 780 to 150, purchased new lab equipment to allow for timely testing and is hiring five investigators.
The department will require annual medical testing and yearly training for those who apply pesticides and expand the department’s pesticide advisory committee, Enright said.
Pesticide laws and regulations will be updated, he said, and the department will increase the amount charged to companies seeking to register a pesticide. The additional revenue, he said, will help fund future pesticide monitoring.
“That’s work the department’s never done before. It’s unprecedented,” Enright said. “Most departments of agriculture around the country don’t do (monitoring). But this administration is committed to doing that type of work.”
In January, Kauai’s agricultural Good Neighbor Program will go statewide, he said. The program, created by the department in 2013, requires biotech companies to report and make public pesticide their use monthly, notify neighboring property owners within 1,000 feet of pesticide spraying and create 100-foot buffer zones.
Bennette Misalucha, executive director of the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association, said Hawaii’s seed companies have committed to being good neighbors and have agreed to participate.
“Hawaii’s seed industry has been responsible stewards of Hawaii’s natural resources for 50 years. Their employees are farmers, neighbors and parents who care about the well-being of their communities and the future of Hawaii,” Misalucha said in a statement.
State officials on Wednesday said they will create a “coordinated inter-agency rapid-response team” to handle pesticide incidents. Exercises are planned for all counties, in which a variety of agencies will handle a proposed scenario in which a school is exposed to a pesticide.
Also planned are education and outreach programs, some aimed at helping health care professionals recognize and manage pesticide incidents, officials said.
The Joint Fact Finding Group emerged from Kauai’s Ordinance 960 (formerly Bill 2491) about pesticides and genetically modified organisms, passed by the Kauai County Council in 2013 and overturned in federal court in 2014.
Backed by the mayor’s office on Kauai and the state Department of Agriculture, the group was charged with gathering information about the lands used by seed companies and Kauai Coffee, their pesticide use and evidence of any possible adverse health and environmental impacts.