Despite growing public concern about pesticide use in Hawaii, a new study by the state Department of Health found very small amounts of pesticides in streams on Oahu, Kauai, Maui and the Big Island.

The study, which analyzed water from 24 streams, found that the areas with the greatest number of pesticides were not near large farms but rather in urban Oahu.

Fenix Grange, an environmental toxicologist who works as a supervisor at the Office of Hazard Evaluation and Emergency Response at DOH, presented the results of the study during a meeting of the Environmental Council on Thursday. The full report isn’t scheduled to be published until next week.

Grange noted that the study merely analyzed surface water for pesticides at a particular point in time, rather than showing averages or trends over time.

The analysis, which was funded by the DOH, the state Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Geological Survey, concluded that there were no violations of state or federal water quality standards for pesticides that are currently used.

The study did find dieldrin, a harmful insecticide that is now banned in the U.S., exceeded state water quality standards. The result confirmed a previous study by USGS that found high levels of the toxin.

Regarding currently used pesticides, the study discovered small concentrations of the chemicals at all 24 tested sites, but Grange said the amounts were generally well below the state and federal benchmarks.

Streams in urban Oahu had the highest number of pesticides present, including one site where 20 types were detected. In total, the study found 41 pesticide compounds.

The study also analyzed seven sites for the presence of glyphosate, an herbicide that is more commonly known by its trade name, Roundup. The state doesn’t generally test for glyphosate because of the high cost, but members of the Environmental Council advocated for more testing last fall.

Three of the seven sites had glyphosate, but at extremely low levels — the highest concentration was 60,000 times lower than the lowest benchmark available.

The issue of pesticide use has gained more attention recently as more residents have become worried about the farming practices of biotech companies like Monsanto Co. and Syngenta.

Community concerns have grown so much that last year, Kauai passed a law that in part requires biotech companies to disclose details of their pesticide use and abide by buffer zones near roads, schools and other areas. The law, which is set to go into effect in August, is currently being challenged by Sygenta and other seed companies.

Gary Gill, deputy director of environmental health at DOH, said the purpose of the study was to bring facts into the discussion of pesticide use in Hawaii, which can often be heated and emotional.

“This is our first infusion of factual information,” said Gill, noting that the next step is to gather feedback from the community. “I think it will take the community some time to make suggestions about what we should do next.”

Meeting attendees expressed relief at the findings.

“When you look at social media, ‘farmer’ has become a dirty word,” said Alan Gottlieb from the Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council. “It’s really been tough to be a farmer in this state for the past three or four years. Instead of working the fields, we’ve had to go down to the Legislature or just spend time in social media or blogging.”

Marjerie Ziegler, a member of the Environmental Council, said that the main takeaway for her were the higher levels in urban areas, rather than near large farms growing genetically engineered crops.

“The myth in my head says that GMO is increasing all those pesticides but maybe that isn’t the case,” Ziegler said, using the popular term for genetically modified organisms.

Jessica Wooley, director of the Office of Environmental Quality, noted that the report is just a first step and community members will likely have input on how the state could improve future studies.

“This is a great first step to hopefully really increasing transparency on this issue, which is key,” Wooley said.

Contact Anita Hofschneider via email at or on Twitter @ahofschneider

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