County Funded Health Group
On September 9, 2013, the final report of a study of geothermal health and safety issues by a group of Puna community members was delivered to the Mayor and published. The study report, funded by the County of Hawai`i, includes these initial statements:
Events during the HGP-A era and during the 1991 blowout provided exposures associated with adverse health effects. This knowledge, along with other information contained in this report ... has led the Study Group to conclude there is evidence that there were health effects from the exposures during the development of geothermal before 1993. The full extent and severity of those effects has not been documented. ...
Risks from geothermal energy production in Lower Puna exist. The actual extent and impacts of those risks remains unresolved. What is known is that hazardous chemicals are brought up by PGV. PGV adds industrial chemicals to the mix in the process and then sends the composite fluid back down. However, fluids inevitably escape to air, water, or at surface level. Harmful effects can only be understood through better monitoring and reliable health data.
In the summer of 2012, the Puna Pono Alliance submitted a proposal to former County Council Chair Dominic Yagong seeking funding for a study to identify health problems of people exposed to Puna Geothermal Venture emissions. Mr. Yagong had introduced a bill to direct geothermal royalty money toward such a health study, but when the bill passed it was vetoed by the Mayor. The proposal was forwarded by Mr. Yagong to the Planning Commission to consider funding from the Geothermal Asset Fund. Most Council members seemed to feel that a health study should be done, but there was uncertainty as to the funding method.
On October 2, 2012, the Mayor weighed in, this time joining the chorus by saying in a news release a geothermal health study should be done: "Health issues related to the production of geothermal energy are a concern for many island residents.... [The] County Department of Research and Development has contracted for an independent joint fact finding study to help lay the groundwork for future geothermal health studies to be conducted in the Puna community." The contract with Dr. Peter Adler to plan future Puna geothermal health studies led to the working group and the September 9, 2013, report. Puna Pono members Bob Petricci and Tom and Laura Travis were part of Dr. Adler's health issues review group.
On September 22, 2013, it was reported that "Mayor Billy Kenoi says he intends to implement the recommendations of the Geothermal Public Health Assessment, including a comprehensive health effects study for Puna. ... Kenoi in a phone interview commended the group’s work and said he does not plan to let the 72-page report sit on the shelf. ... Kenoi commissioned the report to be done about a year ago in response increasing concerns in Puna over existing geothermal development and plans by Hawaii Electric Light Co. to expand it by another 50 megawatts...."
A preliminary survey of 60 people has found evidence of measurable health impacts among residents of lower Puna and Hilo. The survey, using eight tests from an extensive battery of more than two dozen neurological and pulmonary measurements employed by Dr. Kilburn in his method for such studies, was conducted locally in March and April, 2013.
The measurements were delivered to Dr. Kilburn in Pasadena, California, for evaluation by Neuro-Test (his medical research company) assisted by computer analysis from an Oregon firm. Dr. Kilburn has used his extensive test regime in numerous community health surveys and with it he also has developed data for a non-impacted control group from Tennessee (abbreviated TN below.)
Examining 30 residents from the Pahoa area as well as 30 volunteers from Hilo town, Tom and Laura organized and conducted the survey with the help of their daughter Geneva Travis and two other recent college graduates, Sean McConkie and Carey Priebe. The tests administered (after filling out personal history information for each patient, including a section on geothermal exposures and timeline) were:
- Reaction time (using Neuro-Test equipment, this test measures the interval of time between perception of visual stimulus onscreen and detection of a response, both for a simple single response and also for a choice of responses)
- Balance (Neuro-Test equipment measures the speed of sway while standing, the test is performed both with eyes open and with eyes closed)
- Grip strength (measured using a standard dynamometer calibrated in kilograms)
- Color discrimination (as measured with the desaturated Lanthony 15 hue test under constant illumination)
- Spirometry (the most common pulmonary function tests, they measure seven aspects of lung function, specifically including the amount [or volume] and/or speed [or flow] of air that can be inhaled and exhaled)
- Profile of Mood States (POMS) (patients self appraise their emotional status during the preceding week using an assessment that consists of 65 words describing tension, anxiety, depression, anger, vigor, fatigue and confusion)
- Self assessments of (a) chemical sensitivity, (b) chronic fatigue, (c) peripheral neuropathy and (d) recall
- Symptom Frequency (in a three-page assessment, patients self-report the frequency of their physical symptoms using a standardized rating system of 35 complaints including indexes of irritation, respiratory, cardiac, sleep, memory, headache, concentration, dizziness and gastrointestinal complaints -- the results of these tests showed greater differences in the Puna group.)
A letter summarizing the preliminary survey results was sent to each participant by Dr. Kilburn describing the following statistics by topic, with corresponding bar graphs (please click on the topic headings below to see the graphs -- each graph shows increasing numbers of measured abnormalities from left to the right for each of the three compared areas.)
Puna - 51% had 2 or more abnormalities
Hilo - nearly 55% had 2 or more abnormalities
TN - only 7.5% had 2 or more abnormalities
Puna - 43% had at least one abnormality (30% had two)
Hilo - nearly 65% had at least one abnormality (nearly 40% had two)
TN - less than 14% had at least one abnormality (only 6% had two)
Puna - 40% had adverse moods
Hilo - 20% had adverse moods
TN - 12% had adverse moods
In July of 2012 the Puna Pono Alliance submitted a proposal to former County Council Chair Dominic Yagong seeking funding for a study to identify health problems of people exposed to Puna Geothermal Venture emissions.
As reported by the Hawaii Herald-Tribune, Yagong forwarded the proposal to the Planning Commission to consider funding from the Geothermal Asset Fund, as he felt the process for approving a health study “is not clearly defined” in the Planning Commission’s rules.
Former Council member Fred Blas also asked the commission about “the proper procedures and protocols” for using geothermal asset funds to conduct an “independent, comprehensive, health study in Puna to determine possible negative impacts of geothermal power producing activities” at PGV. His August 8, 2012, letter said, “many residents of the area around the plant have requested health studies for years … It is my position that an independent, comprehensive health study by qualified professionals is long overdue and should be undertaken as soon as possible.”
Robert Petricci, President of the Puna Pono Alliance, said the group is proposing a health study led by Dr. Kaye Kilburn of California. “Dr. Kilburn is the leading researcher for hydrogen sulfide in the United States, and he has many papers published on hydrogen sulfide,” Petricci said. “He’s really well-known and accomplished.”
On February 10th Dr. Kilburn attended the second in a series of study group meetings facilitated by Dr. Peter Adler under a contract with the county Department of Research and Development in October of 2012 to look into community geothermal health issues.
At that meeting the Adler group heard from Dr. Kilburn and other physicians about their experiences and observations treating patients with health issues they believe may be linked to geothermal energy production including teleconferences with Dr. Janette Sherman and Dr. Sam Ruben. Dr. Ruben was the Department of Health's District Health Officer in Hilo during previous PGV incidents. Dr. Ruben, Dr. Sherman and other physicians previously wrote about potential and actual goethermal health impacts. Dr. Sherman and Dr. Ruben both referred the group to Dr. Kilburn when asked how to best approach a health study.