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.
Dr. Kilburn, described as a "pioneer in the field of environmentally caused illnesses and longtime Pasadena resident" died on August 7, 2014, at the age of 82.
The measurements were delivered to Dr. Kilburn in Pasadena, California, for evaluation by Neuro-Test (his medical research company) assisted by statistical and computer analysts. Dr. Kilburn used his extensive test regime in numerous community health surveys and with it he also developed data for a non-impacted control group from Tennessee (abbreviated TN below.) In November, 2013, more than 30 residents of North Kohala were similarly tested with results comparable to the non-impacted Tennessee control group.
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 standard neurological tests administered by the volunteers (after filling out personal history information for each patient, including a section on toxic 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
County Funded Health Group
On September 9, 2013, a report funded by the County of Hawai`i was delivered to the Mayor. The $50,000 study of geothermal health and safety issues by a group of community members opens by saying:
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, a proposal was submitted to former County Council Chair Dominic Yagong seeking funds for a study to identify health problems of people exposed to Puna Geothermal Venture emissions. The proposal followed a series of political steps (Mr. Yagong introduced a bill to direct geothermal royalty money toward health studies, but the Mayor vetoed the bill) and was forwarded by Mr. Yagong to the Planning Commission to consider funding from the Geothermal Asset Fund.
At that point the Mayor stepped in, saying in an October 2, 2012, news release that a geothermal health study should be done: "Health issues related to the production of geothermal energy are a concern for many island residents.... 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, a report.
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.
Then County Council Chair Dominic 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.
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.
The County funded report says:
Many people in the Lower Puna community expressed their belief that Dr. Kilburn represents community interests. They also cite a measure passed by the County Council in 2012 but vetoed by the Mayor, and they urge the direct appointment of Dr. Kaye Kilburn whom they prefer.
The Study Group does not view the selection of specific researchers as part of its mandate and believes the County’s procurement procedures would probably not allow this. However, the Study Group believes Dr. Kilburn is an eminent, respected scientist with a long history of work on H2S. Along with other interested, qualified scientists, he should be cordially invited to submit his credentials for consideration.