Let science, not opinion, guide on pesticides

A recent column in The Garden Island stated that many of the bills concerning pesticides at the Hawaii State legislature this year are just stealthy ways to attack genetically engineered crops.

This type of argument does a great disservice to science, to the medical profession, and to the general public. It is time for us to move past the red-shirt, blue-shirt, pro-GMO, and anti-GMO ideological divisions. The bills regarding chlorpyrifos are not a stealthy attack on GE crops, but they are an example of how science is made muddy by politics.

Chlorpyrifos is an insecticide. It kills insects by disrupting nerve cells. Physicians who serve in the House and in the Senate introduced the two main bills proposing to ban chlorpyrifos. They present in their bills the ever-increasing evidence that even at very low levels of exposure, chlorpyrifos may injure the brains of unborn babies and children.

Studies have shown exposure to come through food and nearby agricultural spraying. Because of ongoing health concerns, chlorpyrifos has already been banned for household use (except for bait traps). Chlorpyrifos is also considered dangerous for farm workers. It is the chemical that sent the Syngenta employees recently to the hospital. Both the EPA and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have called for a nationwide ban on chlorpyrifos.

Genetic engineering can be an important tool in both medicine and food production. In medicine, biotechnology has made it possible to create miraculous new cancer treatments and several new vaccines. In agriculture, genetic engineering has played a role in saving the papaya crop in Hawaii and as the science improves there definitely is promise in the field.

The AAP has not, in any of its copious literature on the danger of pesticides, called for a ban on the science of genetic engineering. The EPA’s own scientific committee recommended in 2016 that chlorpyrifos be banned.

Trump’s appointment to the EPA, Scott Pruitt, overruled the proposed ban.

The EPA certainly is not anti-genetic engineering. Seventeen healthcare providers from Kauai submitted a joint letter in favor of a statewide ban of chlorpyrifos. None of the healthcare providers from Kauai (to my knowledge) are mounting a “stealthy attack” against GMO farming.

We are just stating strongly that the scientific evidence has become very clear that pesticide intensive farming must be monitored and regulated and that if certain pesticides are found to be particularly dangerous, they should be banned.

So where can we go from here? I do hope that some of the bills concerning regulation of pesticides pass. It is very obvious though, that throwing pesticide regulation into the political arena is a recipe for anti-scientific rhetoric from all sides. California has a very robust farming economy and some of the strictest pesticide regulations in the country.

They have done this by removing pesticides from control by the legislative bodies. Instead they have a Department of Pesticide Regulation. My understanding is that it collects continuous data, does its best to rise above the politics, and makes rules based on the best available scientific evidence.

The result is a new a quarter-mile ban on spraying during school hours for most types of agricultural spraying and mandatory statewide reporting of what is being sprayed and where it’s being applied. They have not yet banned chlorpyrifos but they are looking at increased restrictions.

Whatever we are doing to create a dialogue and meaningful legislation concerning pesticides is obviously not working. Let’s find a new way to speak with each other, respect the science, and make appropriate regulations to ensure both the health of our communities and the viability of agriculture in Hawaii.


Lee A. Evslin, MD, was the former CEO of Kauai Medical Clinic and Wilcox Hospital. He recently served on the state-commissioned task force which examined pesticide use on Kauai. His column covers recent research on health issues.

  1. Lenny for mayor March 2, 2018 6:42 am Reply

    I feel like if any industry provides jobs to locals and flips it should be able to spray whatever they want. Who cares if some kids get brain damage or die? It’s called collateral damage and profit is all that matters. I thought we and the whole council agreed on that. Let the chem companies run wild, it’s all good!!

  2. livealoha March 2, 2018 9:13 am Reply

    Well stated, thank you. You have made it perfectly clear to the lay person who has been lumping the terms GMO and pesticide together that they are indeed two separate issues.

  3. Sue March 2, 2018 9:52 am Reply

    Great read! I hope many people see this guest opinion.

  4. Just Saying March 2, 2018 12:18 pm Reply

    This sneaky little back door attack on GMO has deniability written all through it. Watch the Denier in Chief on this page even say nice things about GMO! The bottom line is, if a GMO research facility is banned from researching the most used product, what is the point of their existing in the place where it is banned. Come on Lee, answer that one, baby!

    And please stop with the tired old “…Seventeen healthcare providers from Kauai..” business. This sounded impressive the first time until you learn that most of them are saying things like “Well, John, maybe if you move the crystals closer to your sleeping mat you’ll get better results!”

    I’m sure we’re dealing with what was a fine doctor once; but, is now a political activist who is munching on mendacity as a means to an end!

  5. Charlie Chimknee March 2, 2018 1:30 pm Reply

    Aloha and Mahalo Dr. Evslin,

    This is a good and informative article today.

    May we challenge, or ramp up your contribution about Chlorpyrifos being harmful to unborn babies, and children. Damage to brain cells caused by the dangerous impact that pesticides have on brain cells still undergoing development, or maturing, in unborn babies and children is still harmful to youth and young adults who are still undergoing physical body and brain maturity which is until the ages of between 25 to 27 years old. Let’s not leave these young people out as they are an enormous and important part of the population.

    This concern to developing brain cells applies to cell phones seemingly locked to the side of the head of so many young adults. Their brains ares still developing to as old as 27 for some and brain cell damage is more than extremely regrettable at any age. Unlock those phones from your head and turn up the speaker box and put the phone on a selfie stick to converse, take a photo of yourself being smart.

    Perhaps the general public is unaware that the brain controls the function, the appropriate regeneration and rejuvenation of all the body’s cells that can reproduce, the brain coordinates every cell, tissue, organ, and system of the body not only as individual parts but as a unified machine or organism as each of the organs and glands and systems, et., require interconnected coordination every second of our lives. All this is done by the miracle of your brain’s cells.

    Chlorpyrifos messes with your brain and it’s cells, without which you won’t Live.

    It’s ok for a bug to take a bite out of your corn on the cob or your piece of lettuce, or apple, but it’s not OK for chlorpyrifos to be inhaled by breathing or ingested by eating and carried into your blood stream and taken up into your brain to damage your brain’s cells.

    But it’s not only chlorpyrifos, the use of all those routine chemicals used everywhere in our foods, clothes, medicines, prescriptions, in agriculture, released by industry pollution into the air, rivers, and the ocean, these chemicals that accumulate over decades of our lives to shorten our lives and / or lower the quality of it.

    When people say trust scientists as to GMO’s…do you know a single scientist, or group of scientists, or all the scientists in the world who are smarter than Mother Nature, who is a direct link to God, the Intelligence of Creation.

    Scientists can mess with nature but they cannot improve on it, and to say so is a slap in the face of Narure and God. Nature and God have the experience of keeping earth clean for eternity, until the scientists showed up and began polluting it and now messing with nature with their GMO’s and chemicals. Scientists have the combination of a paltry Education, trial and error of short lived experiments and paychecks which drives them forward, often recklessly, and Chlorpyrifos is one of those reckless experiments.

    What scientists do in a few years or decades, can take a lifetime, and who knows maybe an eternity to undo.

    If scientists were so smart, we wouldn’t be hoping for the next cure for cancer, since the last cure did not work. With smart scientists who respected Nature we’d be working on the PREVENTION OF CANCER, which is exactly what Dr. Evslin is telling us about. We have the ability to rid ourselves from the exposure to poisonous chemicals, but first it takes educating us which is exactly what Dr. Evslin is also doing. Are the elected officials getting educated or are they just getting campaign contributions.

    Some of us take exception to and we regretted reading that only 17 doctors on KAUAI signed a petition against Chlorpyrifos. Does that mean the rest of the doctors would not sign it? Can we have their names as it tells a lot of how much they value our health.

    Really we can be confident that all our doctors would have signed the petition had they all been asked…wouldn’ they?

    Chlorpyrifos is a poison and it may be unfair to single it out amongst all the other poisons, when poison is poison. If you’ve mentally gotten used to poison chemicals in and on your food, in your medicines, spread across the land, the very land given to us by God to grow our food, spilled and polluted into the rivers and oceans which God gave us to have clean drinking water, and the seas to harvest food for sustainability, if you’ve gotten used to all that then it means advertising works.

    And the chemical industry in their drive for more of their never before seen massive profits has imprinted your brain with a lackadaisical attitude about tolerating poison; the trouble is, your brain cells and your body aren’t tolerating these dangerous chemicals; and proof is in the continual surge in the increasing diseases of poisons such as the too many cancers and new cancers that your scientists are finding. Once you have cancer caused by chemicals, the scientists have Disease Care waiting for you, more chemicals…CHEMOTHERAPY.

    It’s OK to come from New Guinea, but it’s not OK to be a “GUINEA PIG”.

    Take control of your life, search out education about your body, and education about your body will improve your health and give you greater quality of life and extended years of longevity.

    12+ years of education about your body, 1 hour a day in school, every BODY, child, and young person deserves it…Health Education about your body…what is it, what does it do, and how does it work. Know that and you will live healthier and longer.



    1. Just Saying March 3, 2018 3:14 am Reply

      Ever notice that the quantity of Charlie’s writing has a solid inverse relationship to the factual quality of Charlie’s writing!

    2. Amused March 3, 2018 11:28 am Reply

      “…do you know a single scientist, or group of scientists, or all the scientists in the world who are smarter than Mother Nature, ”

      Bacteria have been genetically engineering organisms for millennia, Charlie. Might want to do some of that research you’re advocating. Because you’re looking pretty ignorant here.

  6. Joan Conrow March 2, 2018 2:54 pm Reply

    Dr. Evslin, your bias and ignorance are evident here. First, the seed industry is not “pesticide intensive agriculture.” That’s classic anti-GMO propaganda.

    Second, the state’s largest user of cholrpyrifos is resorts. But you make no mention of that and instead single out only ag uses. So don’t be trying to pretend that these bills are’t an attack on one kind of ag: the seed industry.

  7. Charlie chimknee March 2, 2018 9:52 pm Reply

    Mahalo Ms. Conrow,

    Thanks for the heads up as to the biggest user of Chlorpyrifos as being the resorts.

    The resort unions should protect their workers, the resorts should warn and protect their guests, no wonder their gardens look so uneaten by bugs.

    Is there anywhere we are safe from chemicals, chlorine in the water, exhaust on the roads especially in traffic. Home Depot stinks of poison in the pest control aisle…chokingly so, they must have permeable packaging.

    Thank God sugar withered away, those cane fires burned Paraquat which when burned the lethality increased by 1000%. No wonder they burned at night under the cover of darkness.

    How much of that Paraquat did we breathe in our sleep? How many years?

    If someone was intentionally poisoning you, can you make a citizen’s arrest? Seems reasonable.

    If the aina is so important to the Hawaiian Kingdom, how come the Soveriegnty Hawaiians and their supporters do not ban poison use statewide?

    Shouldn’t we know if a political candidate or elected official is receiving campaign contributions from conflict of interest donators, with subsequent recusing themself in office on decision making regarding the conflict?

    America and scientists working for America developed the Atomic Bomb about 73 years ago, now the whole world lives in fear of atomic or nuclear war…and those 5 little words, “THIS IS NOT A TEST !”

    See what them scientists did…now all the King’s horses and all the King’s men can’t put NUKES back in the box again.

    The poisons are out of the box today, what will it mean for us tomorrow?



    1. Just Saying March 6, 2018 2:46 pm Reply

      Leave it to Charlie to throw a herbicide into a pesticide debate! According to a year 2000 report by the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center, when sugarcane was still a widespread operation, Paraquat was used on less than 1% of Hawaii cane fields. It was only used when weed seedling emerged before cane seedlings and was only applied by tractor.

      According to Am J Public Health. 1983 Jul;73(7):784-8, studies on paraquat contaminated marijuana revealed that only 0.02 % of paraquat passes into smoke!

      You go on saying and believing whatever you want, Charlie

  8. Joni Kamiya March 2, 2018 10:41 pm Reply

    If the pesticide is really the issue of concern, why have the bills addressing chlorpyrifos disclosure and buffer zones specifically exempt structural, landscape, and golf courses? Those are all possible means of exposure that are completely ignored? If the safety of people are of that level of concern, why not target all users if you’re to be adequately protecting them?

    The state and county also uses RUPs and no one has the right to know about it? How are you protecting the public as claimed then?

  9. Lee Evslin March 3, 2018 12:01 am Reply

    To Joan and Just Saying,

    In 2016, the EPA submitted a proposal to eliminate all tolerances for chlorpyrifos. ” tolerances are the maximum residue of a pesticide that can be in or on food, this proposed rule revoking all chlorpyrifos tolerances means that if this approach is finalized, all agricultural uses of chlorpyrifos would cease.”1.

    The EPA stated that while “uncertainties” remain, a number of studies provide “sufficient evidence” that children may experience neurodevelopment effects even at low levels of chlorpyrifos exposure.

    Trump’s pick to head the EPA, Scott Pruitt, overruled the EPA’s recommendation to revoke all food tolerances (meaning ban for agricultural use.)

    The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) wrote an open letter to Scott Pruitt stating that they are “deeply alarmed” by Pruitt’s decision to allow the pesticide’s continued use. They further stated that, “There is a wealth of science demonstrating the detrimental effects of chlorpyrifos exposure to developing fetuses, infants, children and pregnant women. …The risk to infant and children’s health and development is unambiguous.”

    They close their letter with: “We urge EPA to rely on the established science and to take action to revoke all tolerances for chlorpyrifos, as proposed in 2015. America’s children today and in the future deserve and demand no less.”

    The exposures they are concerned about are from food, water, and exposure by spraying. The American Academy pf Pediatrics represents most of the board certified pediatricians in America (Including me). I can assure both of you that their opinion and the opinion of the EPA (prior to Scott Pruitt) is not based on ignorance or bias. The letter from the AAP to Scott Pruitt lays out in great detail the reasons the AAP has concerns about exposure to chlorpyrifos and I suggest reading it.

    1. US Environmental Protection Agency. “Proposal to Revoke Chlorpyrifos Food Residue Tolerances” (WebContent). Retrieved 2017-02-04.

    2. Nation’s Pediatricians, EWG Urge EPA to Ban Pesticide that Harms Kids’ Brains. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.ewg.org/testimony-official-correspondence/nation-s-pediatricians-ewg-urge-epa-ban-pesticide-harms-kids

  10. Wil Welsh March 5, 2018 4:40 pm Reply

    Bravo, Dr. Evslin!

  11. Just Saying March 6, 2018 2:16 pm Reply

    So, Lee avoided my challenge, which was to explain why banning the most used product wasn’t a way of also removing a GMO research facility whose work is related to the most used product.
    Lee also continued to say absolutely nothing about how much worse the second most used product is that will take the place of the one banned.
    Lee also avoided any relationship between variable exposures throughout the mainland that produced study results and Kauai’s own Westside where no Ag activity has been conducted within a mile of a school for 10 years and only one documented mishap has taken place within the same period. Why don’t you give our own a little credit Activist Lee?

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