The final draft of the Joint Fact Finding Task Force report came out on May 10, 2016. It is a long report, so it is not surprising that many people have not really read it and there have been different interpretations of the findings and recommendations.
The JFF was formed to examine several issues related to pesticide use by Syngenta, BASF, Dow, DuPont-Pioneer, and Kauai Coffee. One of the tasks was to review available data on the: “possible impacts to … human health from such usage.”
We did find increased adverse health conditions on the Westside and some of these conditions have been associated with pesticide use in the evolving medical literature. The problem we faced was insufficient data from environmental testing and available health statistics) to separate pesticide usage from socio-economic patterns, genetics, or even random chance as possible causes of adverse health conditions.
That is why our main conclusion was that the only way to better understand the possible role of pesticides on the ill health on the Westside is to properly test the environment — which means test the dust, water, soil and the air and consider testing urine for pesticide metabolites.
In our study of the international scientific literature, we found that pesticides are associated with at least 20 medical conditions (pages 59-60 of the report). We then attempted to determine how many of those 20 conditions had available medical data that we could be used to compare the Westside with the rest of the island and state.
We found data on 11 of those conditions (tables and graphs on pages 60-71). In addition, local health information was often more than five years old or for brief time periods and much of it of questionable quality. We simply reported on what was available.
The good news is that according to the Hawaii Department of Health there is no apparent cluster of cancer or autism cases. Birth defect reporting is more complicated. One of the reasons that the JFF was established was due to reports by some Westside physicians that they were seeing an unusual cluster of infants and children with severe cardiac birth defects. They said that there were between 9-11 infants with this very serious condition.
The DOH had not reported on birth defects since 2005. At our request, they reviewed birth defects from 2010 to 2012. The three years of data did show a somewhat higher rate of birth defects on the Westside but no cluster of severe cardiac defects. After further requests, in January of 2016, the DOH expanded their report to include 2013 and 2014. This showed zero birth defects from families that lived from Eleele to Kekaha for infants born in those two years and again no evidence of a cluster of severe cardiac defects.
Some physicians on the Westside maintain the DOH data is still incorrect. They believe they can identify at least nine cases with severe cardiac defects and that they also had cases with birth defects born in the two years when the DOH reported zero cases. We requested that the DOH work with the physicians to resolve this discrepancy.
We used the Department of Education’s (DOE) data to look at the percentage of children ages 3-8 with developmental delays or attention deficit disorders (ADHD). We obtained two years of data and it was similar for each of the two years and showed increases in ADHD and developmental delay on the Westside.
The specific graph below was not included in the report but further depicts the data we reviewed. It shows developmental delay for this past school year. If we combine the data for Eleele and Kekaha elementary schools, it shows a 48 percent increase over schools in the East and North and a 70 percent increase over schools in the Lihue and Southern districts.
We also looked at Easter Seals data and found that the further west we looked the percentage of children born with special needs appeared to increase. Easter Seals is a program for children with special needs from birth to age three.
In addition, we looked at obesity, diabetes, and severe renal disease requiring dialysis and all three are elevated in the Westside communities. The long-running and respected Agricultural Health Study and other studies show associations between all three of these conditions and pesticides.
What do we conclude from this data?
The health data taken by itself cannot answer the question of whether pesticides have led to ill health in the areas near the heaviest spraying. Although the international research on potential pesticide toxicity is of growing concern, it is also important to remember that all the health data above involve only small numbers of people, as the population on the Westside is small, which makes it difficult to prove statistical significance for any condition. Further, all of these conditions could also be caused by other factors, including random chance. In addition school data is for a very brief time period (two years) and the graphing depicts an even shorter time period (one year).
If we are committed to understanding the possible health effects of pesticide exposure, we certainly need further environmental testing and consideration of other cofactors. For example, communities on the mainland have become very concerned about lead in their drinking water. The only way these towns are able to respond to these concerns is to more aggressively test the water for lead and more carefully examine the lead levels in children.
The conclusion of the health chapter is that testing of both our environment and its inhabitants is the only scientific way to reduce public uncertainties and prove or disprove a link between Kauai’s use of pesticides and adverse health effects.
The actual report can be found at the ACCORD3.0.com website under “Projects.” An easy way to read the report is to read the Executive Summary and then the conclusions and recommendations in chapters 9 and 10.
Lee Evslin is a retired physician. He served as CEO of Kauai Medical Clinic and Wilcox hospital and was one the members of the JFF task force.