Oahu’s drinking water is not safe for use, according to officials who announced the results of a water quality test conducted in Honolulu’s Waikiki Beach and Kauai’s Maunalua Bay.
Fearing the harmful levels of pollution, people on Oahu, Kauai and the Big Island have been urged to avoid using tap water.
Drinking the water would be illegal, the Honolulu Water Authority said in a news release. The water authority said it has requested that residents limit their water use to “essential, limited activities.”
The EPA considers such water advisories a public health emergency and subject to emergency regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
“That this level of contamination is found in Waikiki Beach and Kauai’s Maunalua Bay is appalling, especially because several attempts to retrofit the Waikiki plant failed,” said Wayne Ofana, a Honolulu resident and critic of the water authority. “The EPA regularly admonishes local governments for not regularly testing the water. Our water authority should be required to conduct regular water testing.”
The Honolulu water authority said the water quality problems were caused by petroleum-based chemicals and were “entirely unrelated to testing, treatment, or distribution activities.”
“Although the Waikiki Beach Water Treatment Plant operates safely, the Waikiki Beach drinking water system has a history of leaking lead service lines, which has likely contaminated the water,” the release said. “The authority notified residents about the contamination in 2004. That’s when it took steps to fix the leak. Since that time, the service line has corroded further until it is large enough to bring a bathtub, pickle jar, or toilet full of water through the faucet. As a result, the water contains low levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), metals, sediment, pesticides, and other compounds.”
While the contaminated water was released in 2004, the service line has remained leaking, according to the Honolulu water authority. The leak has been plugged, but about half the leak remains, and the water authority has been unable to consistently capture the leaks, the release said.
The release said the Hawaii Department of Health on Jan. 19 notified the Honolulu water authority of the same contamination in its test results.
“We just have to let the people have their attention for the next week or so,” said Ron Kuehl, the acting Honolulu water authority director. “We urge people who use the water to be very cautious, if you’re only using that water for drinking or washing.”
U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, said the test results should “cause pause and worry” for residents.
“Over the last five years, several major leaks and several parts-per-billion of pollution have been found at the water system in Waikiki,” said Schatz. “We understand that recent tests indicate that a number of those leaks have been fixed, but there are a number of remaining leaks that need to be fixed.
“The areas of Hawaii that drink city water are some of the most vulnerable to a variety of pollution including PCBs. I am frustrated by the administration’s delay in disclosing this information, particularly given that their aqueducts are 300 to 450 years old.
“While that may be the case in Waikiki Beach and Kauai’s Maunalua Bay, it is of concern to the entire State of Hawaii and the fact that cities across the country with our aqueducts are reporting similar contamination levels is a cause for concern,” said Hirono.
In a statement, the county’s mayor also said the community should be concerned over the monitoring failures and disclosure delay.
“I feel for the people who are unnecessarily restricted from enjoying our ocean,” he said. “We have been advocating for this information, on and off, for years, but it appears that the Hawaii Department of Health is still not in a position to provide Hawaii residents with accurate data.”
Later in the day, the Hawaii House of Representatives formed an oversight subcommittee to look into the practices of Hawaii’s public water utility and investigate the failure to notify the public.
“Public health is paramount. The residents of our state deserve transparency,” said House Speaker Scott Saiki. “It is my obligation to our residents to investigate these issues, and I am certainly prepared to do so.”
This article was written by Emily Hsieh, a staff writer for The Washington Post.