(Beyond Pesticides, May 28, 2014) A statewide pilot pesticide sampling project has found over 20 different types of pesticides in Hawaiian waterways, some of which are no longer registered for use in Hawaii. State officials believe the pesticides, many detected in urban areas, are from residential and golf course applications. These preliminary findings help highlight the need for local oversight of pesticide use, currently a controversial issue in the state.
Conducted in partnership with the Hawaiian Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Hawaiian Department of Health, the survey-study finds herbicides like glyphosate (Roundup) and atrazine, as well as a fungicide that is no longer registered for use in the state, contaminating the state’s waterways. The study measured pesticides in surface waters and in sediment at multiple locations in Hawaii. 25 herbicides, 11 insecticides and 6 fungicides were detected, with atrazine the most commonly found. This pilot survey responds to growing community concerns about the impacts of pesticides on local communities and ecosystems, and provides preliminary information on pesticide residues in state waterways. Recently, Kauai County passed an ordinance —Ordinance 960— that requires public disclosure of pesticides used and the location of genetically engineered (GE) crops, as well as buffer zones around sensitive locations, such as schools, hospitals and shorelines. After this step forward for concerned communities, a bill was introduced to essentially block the implementation of the new ordinance by seeking to preempt local governments from restricting pesticide use in their communities. For more on preemption, read our factsheet.
According to the results, every location sampled has detections of one or more pesticides, most at concentrations below federal benchmarks for human and ecological health, which have been criticized in the past as being unable to protect sensitive populations and species. Oahu’s urban streams have the highest number of pesticides, and Manoa stream near the University of Hawaii show 20 different pesticides and degradates. Atrazine is the most detected pesticide in the study with 80 percent of sites containing the chemical. The report theorizes these frequent detections are due to downstream impacts of current and historic uses in sugar cane and seed corn. Some atrazine detections in Kauai exceeded aquatic benchmarks. Glyphosate is found in all sediment samples. Some of the other pesticides detected include metolachlor, dieldrin- banned from sale in Hawaii in 1980 yet continues to persist, benomyl– also currently banned, fipronil– exceeded aquatic benchmarks in some locations, 2,4-D, iprodione, and chlorpyrifos.
While state officials contend that the majority of pesticide levels found are below federal standards for safety, recent science continues to show that very low level concentrations also have significant impact on aquatic and human health. In addition to low level exposure uncertainties, these standards have been notoriously limited in fully assessing risks due to deficiencies in current risk assessment procedures, including numerous data gaps, lack of understanding of chemical mixtures and synergistic effects. Exceeding these standards/benchmarks means that aquatic life and human health may be at risk.
Despite these standards, U.S. waterways are consistently plagued with pesticide contamination, as oversight and enforcement at both the local and federal levels are lacking. A recent survey conducted by researchers at USGS and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found traces of 18 unregulated chemicals in drinking water from more than one third of U.S. water utilities. Currently, over 50 percent of U.S. streams have one or more pesticides that exceed at least one aquatic-life benchmark. Similarly, more than 20 percent of domestic wells contain at least one contaminant at levels of potential health concern. According to the USGS, more than 80 percent of urban streams and more than 50 percent of agricultural streams across the U.S. are contaminated with at least one pesticide. Pesticides like atrazine, chlorpyrifos and malathion are routinely detected. Unfortunately, many pesticides do not in fact have set benchmarks and, as mentioned previously, mixtures and potential synergistic effects continue to go ignored.
Pesticides in waterways have been attributed to the feminization of male amphibians, and intersex fish -male fish producing eggs in the Potomac. Studies link increased seasonal concentration of pesticides in surface water with the peak in birth defects in infants conceived during the spring and summer months, when pesticide use increases and high concentrations of pesticides are found in surface waters. A 2009 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Poisoning the Well, found that atrazine goes undetected by regular monitoring, and that in the 139 municipal water systems from which EPA collected data on a biweekly basis in 2003 and 2004, atrazine is found 90% of the time. Furthermore, 54 of these water systems had at least one spike above three parts per billion, atrazine’s current benchmark. Atrazine in drinking water was recently linked to menstrual irregularities in women.
In addition to attacks in Hawaii to reverse strides seeking to protect local communities from pesticides, efforts in Congress, backed by industry supporters, continue to undermine federal laws and efforts to protect the nation’s waterways from indiscriminate pesticide contamination. According to this new report, Hawaiian officials and scientists, especially in light of growing concerns of pesticides exposures among local communities, will continue to analyze the data and local conditions to learn more about pesticides in the environment and current pesticide practices.
For more information on the fight for pesticide protections in the Hawaiian Islands, see Beyond Pesticides’ past Daily News articles and read Beyond Pesticides’ testimony on Bill 2491 (Ordinance 960).
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides