Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The famous hair sample pesticide test: The enemy is us

The most persistent memes of the anti-farming, anti-pesticide, anti-GMO movement of the past four years have been the suggestions of “proofs” that Kauai farmers are exposing their neighbors to dangerous levels of pesticides.

And one after another of those proofs has proven false, or at least misleading. 

One of the most misleading was a report that children were being contaminated by agricultural pesticides—detected in hair samples. 

It turns out that nobody really analyzed those hair sample tests, and if they had, they’d find most of the contamination is from consumer and residential, not agricultural, pesticides.

“We have met the enemy, and he is us,” said the comic strip Pogo.

As the anti-agriculture forces ramp up in anticipation of the Legislature, we dipped back into the Kauai JFF report—the state and county funded joint fact finding group report, hundreds of pages long, that was issued last summer.

One of the the most powerful and most widespread fear-causers was a Kekaha mother’s report that she had her child’s hair tested, and found it betrayed the presence of 36 pesticides.  That mother released the test results for publication in the JFF. They are part of its report. 

You can find the JFF report at the Accord 3.0 website.
The hair tests themselves start an page 293 in the public comments

Hair testing generally is as popular as it is notoriously inaccurate. It doesn’t correlate well to actual exposure. See here. And here. And here

So, sure, air sampling is an inexact science. But the famous Kekaha child’s hair test got play throughout Hawai`i and in activist websites across the world. We found it at infowars.com, naturalsociety.com, healthfreedoms.org, nutriunify.com, beforeitsnews.com, checkoutthehealthyworld.com, one after another.

Most of these stories were reprints of the same piece, which laid the blame at the feet of the seed companies, including Monsanto, which does not have operations on Kaua`i.

It was not clear to me that anyone has done any analysis whatsoever of the hair sample report, so I took a little time with it. It turns out that most of the detected chemicals listed as the most dangerous are not agricultural but home-use chemicals—consumer products. And those are also the ones in the highest concentrations.

They’re the chemicals people use to kill fleas and ticks on their pets, that they drip into dog and cat ears to kill ear mites, that are used for roaches and ants, that people use in their gardens for weeds and insect pests and molds.

The hair study was performed by a European lab called the Institute of Health in Luxembourg. It made its own determination as to which chemicals to call dangerous or controlled. It found ten chemicals in the Kauai hair tests that it lists as "dangereux." The overwhelming majority are consumer products.

Here are the 10 on the detected and dangerous list.

TCPy, a metabolyte of the controversial agricultural chemical chlorpyrifos
Bifenthrine, a home-use insecticide, sold as Bifen
Cypemethrine, a home use insecticide sold, among others, as Bayer Home Pest Control
Deltamethrine, a home insecticide sold as Raid Max and D-Fense, and Bed Bug Dust Powder
2,4-D, an herbicide used in home products as well as on farms.
Propiconazole, a home use fungicide sold as Honor Guard PPZ
Thiabendazone, a home use fungicide used on pets as Frontline Plus and Tresaderm
Oxadiazon, a home use herbicide sold as Ronstar
Trifluraline, a pre-emergent herbicide found at the level of detection
Propargite, a miticide, which best I can determine is used mainly on fruit crops.

I will concede that there's a lot more analysis possible to do with this report, but also that given the problems with hair samples, it's not clear it's warranted. Nobody should make too much of this.

Hair testing is potentially very misleading. You can’t tell if the chemicals got into the hair through the kids’ eating, or breathing, from playing in an bug-bombed home, from playing with a flea-treated dog or cat, from a neighbor tousling their hair after working in the garden, from sleeping in a bed treated for bed bugs, or from playing in the yard or in the farm field next door. Even from a parent with pesticides on his hands washing a kid's hair.

The hair study--to the degree that it has value--confirms what the National Pesticides Information Center, and the EPA, and American Academy of Pediatrics have found—that the most serious pesticide threat to children is found in and around their homes. 

The National Pesticides Information Center focuses on home pesticide use--not farming.

The EPA is similarly focused on the threat of home use and exposure at home. 

And spend some time with the American Academy of Pediatrics report on pesticide exposure in children. It expresses concern over agricultural use, but severe concern over home exposure.

Government inspectors keep track of our farmers' use of chemicals, but nobody's checking you and your neighbors. And if there is any danger, that's most likely where the danger is. 

Remember the wisdom of Pogo.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2017

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