Public Health Concerned About the Time It Takes to Test, and Fears Tainted Local Produce Already Consumed

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Guam- The Department of Public Health and Social Services (DPHSS) has issued a public advisory on pesticide residues on vegetables. But because the test results from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) take so long, public health is concerned the produce with residual pesticides is already gone or consumed by island residents.

Out of 25 recent samples that were tested by the FDA on behalf of the Department of Public Health’s Division of Environmental Health, four vegetables tested positive for residual pesticides that are not authorized to be used.

The four positive results include locally grown long beans, cucumbers and kang kong. In addition, imported Korean spinach from Korea also tested positive for residual pesticide contamination.

Environmental Health Specialist Supervisor Rosanna Rabago says because public health has to send samples off to FDA’s lab in Irvine, California, there is concern with how long it takes to get results and if the affected produce has already been consumed.

“We sampled these in August and it’s already October 1,” said Rabago. “These produce are no longer available on the shelves at these retail stores.”

Public Health Director James Gillan says they are working with the Guam Environmental Protection Agency and the Guam Department of Agriculture on investigating where the positive samples came from. He points out it is hard to tell the produce is from the supplier of if the supplier bought produce from someone else. Gillan also doesn’t want this situation to discourage people from eating fresh produce.

“I would trust most of the produce that’s grown,” said Gillan. “I think most of the farmers want to do the right thing.”

When used or applied appropriately, public health states pesticides pose a minimal risk to the public. It also is not uncommon for fruits and vegetables to have minute traces of pesticide.

Rabago mentions public health has been conducting residual pesticide surveillance since 2008, at least four times a year. She, along with other agencies, agree it would be nice to have a closer lab, but she says even Hawaii doesn’t have one. Ideally, she emphasizes public health would like to go back to retail markets and effectively remove affected produce.

“Together we’ve all realized a need for a laboratory on Guam so that we could have a faster turnaround in terms of these results,” Rabago said.

Rabago does note by November 2014, public health will have a new lab built through a Department of Interior capital improvement grant. However, it is mainly for their mosquito program and food screening.

Meanwhile, she is working directly with Guam EPA and the Department of Agriculture to make sure local produce is safe.

“Everybody keeps saying buy local, buy local, buy local and yet here we are having these types of results,” said Rabago. “It’s very unfortunate for us and we are definitely concerned. But still, even though we have these results, we recognize that the health benefits of eating an assorted variety of fruits and vegetables is far more healthier than totally omitting it from our diet.”

Public health continues to advise people to wash fruits and vegetables before serving, throw out the outer layers of leafy vegetables, and thoroughly cook produce. Gillan says once they conduct the proper trace-back to suppliers and retail stores, they will look at releasing where the samples originated from.”

“There are fines and restrictions against these improper applications,” said Gillan. “It’s another way to kind of stop it. But usually what you do is you force it more underground.”

 

Read Public Health Advisory Below:

Public Advisory on Pesticide Residues on Vegetables

As part of its regulatory activity in protecting the public from potentially unsafe foods,
the Division of Environmental Health of the Department of Public Health and Social Services
(DPHSS) has been testing fruits and vegetables for residual pesticide.  Three batches of
produce were tested by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on behalf of this Department.
Laboratory results revealed that out of a total of 25 samples, four vegetables tested positive
for residual pesticides that are not authorized for use.  The remaining 21 samples of produce
either did not have any residual pesticides present or the levels of residue were within acceptable ranges.

The four positive results are as follows:

1.      Long Beans (Locally grown)
Green long beans (Vigna unguiculata sesquipedalis), commonly known as frioles (Chamorro) or sitaw (Filipino),
were contaminated with the pesticide permethrin, which is not approved for use on this particular vegetable.

Permethrin is a restricted use pesticide for crop and wide area applications (i.e., nurseries, sod farms)
due to its high toxicity to aquatic organisms, except for wide area mosquito adulticide use.  It is a general
use pesticide for residential and industrial applications.  Permethrin is registered for use on/in numerous
food/feed crops, livestock and livestock housing, modes of transportation, structures, buildings (including
food handling establishments), Public Health mosquito abatement programs, and numerous residential use sites
including use in outdoor and indoor spaces, pets, and clothing.

2.      Cucumbers (Locally grown)
Cucumbers (Cucumis sativus), commonly known as kiukamba (Chamorro) or pipino (Filipino), were contaminated
with the pesticide dimethoate, which is not approved for use on this vegetable.

Dimethoate is a general use systemic organophosphate pesticide currently registered to control insect pests
on fruit, vegetable, grain and field crops, ornamentals, and non-cropland adjacent to agricultural fields.
It is available as an emulsifiable concentrate and wettable powder formulations.

3.      Korean Spinach (Imported from Korea)
The Korean Spinach was contaminated with the pesticide fluquinconazole, which is not approved for use on
this vegetable.

Fluquinconazole is not registered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  It is an illegal pesticide
and must not be applied on any produce sold in the United States, including Guam.

4.      Kang Kong (Locally grown)
Kang kong (Ipomoea aquatic), a leafy green vegetable also known as Chinese water spinach or swamp cabbage,
was found to be contaminated with the pesticide chlorothalonil, which is not approved for use on kang kong.

Chlorothalonil (2,4,5,6-

tetrachloroisophthalonitrile) is a general use pesticide, particularly a fungicide,
that is sold under commercial brand names such as Bravo Weather Stik, Daconil, and tetrachloroisophthalonitrile.
Chlorothalonil has caused irritation of skin and mucous membranes of the eye and respiratory tract on contact.
Cases of allergic contact dermatitis have been reported.  Chlorothalonil is used as a broad spectrum, nonsystemic
fungicide that can also be used as a wood protectant, pesticide, acaricide, and to control mold, mildew, bacteria,
and algae.

When used and applied appropriately, pesticides pose a minimal risk to the general public.  Finding minute traces
of pesticide or its components, called “residual pesticide,” on fruits and vegetables are not uncommon.

Locally, pesticides are regulated by the Guam Environmental Protection Agency (Guam EPA), but residual pesticide
on agricultural food products is the responsibility of DPHSS.  Under the law, any food with a pesticide level above
the tolerance level established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or found to contain any level of
unapproved pesticide, is deemed adulterated and cannot be sold.

As a result of these findings, this Department is working closely with GEPA and the Department of Agriculture in its
investigation.  Because a month has passed between the initial sampling of these produce and the receipt of the
laboratory analysis, the contaminated vegetables are no longer present at retail facilities.

This Department would like to remind the public to regularly wash hands after handling raw agricultural commodities
that may be tainted with unnecessary levels of residual pesticide.

DPHSS further recommends the following to the public:

•       Wash fruits and vegetables using large amounts of cold or warm tap water (with no soap or other detergents) before serving.  Washing will help remove pesticide residues, dirt, and microorganisms that may be on the surface of these foods.  Scrub with a brush when appropriate for produce with firm skin or hard rind.
•       Throw away outer leaves of leafy vegetables, such as lettuce and cabbage.
•       Peeling and discarding outer skin or rinds of some produce is an option since some pesticides are absorbed into the plant.
•       Always wash squash and melons since dirt or bacteria, and possibly residual pesticide, on the surface can be transferred to the inner flesh during cutting.
•       If cooking fruits and vegetables, do so thoroughly.  Cooking can break down some pesticide residues because they tend to be heat sensitive.
•       Eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables can limit exposure to any one type of pesticide residue.

DPHSS wishes to emphasize that while ingestion of minute concentrations of pesticide can occur during consumption of commercially and homegrown fruits and vegetables, the benefits of eating these foods outweigh the potential risks, so the public is encouraged to follow the recommendations provided.

For further inquiry into this matter, the Division of Environmental Health of DPHSS may be contacted at 735-7221.