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County: EPA, state alerted to pesticide found in wastewater

Banned chemical was detected in 2016 test, part of Monsanto case

Maui County notified federal and state officials Wednesday of the presence of a banned pesticide at the heart of a criminal case against Monsanto Co. in wastewater at three treatment plants during testing in 2016.

The testing for a wide range of elements for injection well permits in 2016 identified the presence of nitrophenol, a metabolite of methyl parathion, the active ingredient in Penncap-M. Last week, Monsanto Co. agreed to plead guilty to using, transporting and storing Penncap-M at its South Maui, Maalaea and Kaunakakai facilities in 2014 and to pay $10 million in fines and community service payments.

Following the news reports, the county Department of Environmental Management reviewed its records and found “the highest concentration” of nitrophenol at the Kihei treatment plant, followed by the Molokai and Lahaina plants, county spokesman Brian Perry said Wednesday.

The chemical was not found in the Kahului treatment plant, Perry said.

Eric Nakagawa, director of the county Department of Environmental Management, wrote to Health Director Bruce Anderson and Amy Miller of the Environmental Protection Agency to voluntarily inform them of their findings.

Following the Monsanto news reports, “personnel within the division recalled an isolated testing result and reviewed past effluent characterization results and noticed a possible connection to the news reports,” the letter said.

“While there is not a current EPA numeric criteria value requiring reporting of this finding, we felt you should be aware in case any investigation by the EPA or Hawaii Department of Health is ongoing or planned,” Nakagawa said.

Perry said he did not expect the county to be sanctioned or fined for this voluntary disclosure because “it’s not our fault.”

The county does not know how the chemical got into the wastewater, Perry said. Speculation includes excretions from contaminated workers, through the air or purposefully deposited in the sewer system, he said.

The treated wastewater with the nitrophenol would have gone into the injection wells at the facilities, he said. Whether it reached the ocean or its impact on the environment are not known, he said.

The tests were performed in October, and the results were provided to the Health Department, Perry said.

The Kihei facility test on Oct. 4, 2016, showed 53.72 parts per billion of nitrophenol per liter. The Kaunakakai and Lahaina facilities both were tested on Oct. 18, 2016, with 48.94 ppb/liter and 10.41 ppb/liter, respectively.

Subsequent testing in February, May and August of 2017 did not show the presence of nitrophenol, Perry said.

“The health and safety of our residents and visitors and protection of the environment are of utmost importance to Mayor Michael Victorino and his administration,” Perry said. “When the Monsanto news reports came out this week, wastewater technicians checked records and found that the chemical was found in samples in October 2016. Today, we reported this information to state health and EPA officials for whatever action they deem appropriate.

“We will fully cooperate with state and federal regulators in this matter.”

Victorino said he “wanted the appropriate authorities and members of the public to be aware of the sample findings” and applauded the department for identifying and reporting the presence of nitrophenol.

On Nov. 21, Monsanto agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor offense of unlawfully spraying a banned pesticide — specifically methyl parathion, the active ingredient in Penncap-M — on 2 acres of corn seed and research crops at its Valley Farm facility in Kihei on July 15, 2014.

The company has agreed to be on probation for two years and to pay the maximum possible fine of $200,000 for this offense.

Monsanto, owned by pharmaceutical company Bayer of Germany, also agreed to deferred prosecution related to two felony counts of unlawfully storing acute hazardous waste. For these charges, Monsanto has agreed to pay $10 million — a $6 million criminal fine and $4 million in community service payments to state government entities.

The agreement still needs to be approved by a U.S. District Court judge in Hawaii.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.