Thursday, December 17, 2009


NY Times series on toxic water gives Hawaii good grades but still, there’s arsenic in Waipahu-Ewa-Waianae report

by Larry Geller

One thing that is very well tested in Hawaii is drinking water. And the numbers, as assembled in a New York Times database accompanying their series, Toxic Waters, show that Hawaii is in very good shape compared to some parts of the country.

The database is handy. It lets you find Hawaii’s biggest pollutors at a single click. No surprise, perhaps—the biggest is the Sand Island Waste Water Treatment Plant.

What caught my eye were the water quality reports. I think the folks at the NY Times need to do a bit of work on the data, though. I can’t understand some inconsistencies. For example, let’s look at that Waipahu-Ewa-Waianae water. If you click (please do), you’ll find this (or click the image for large enough to read):


Not too good. Arsenic, a carcinogen, is bad in any quantity. Elsewhere on the website the Times gives this info on it:

ARSENIC A metal that enters water through erosion of natural deposits and runoff from electronics processing and treated wood. [NY Times graphic]

Another part of the report puts it differently:

Arsenic contaminates drinking water due to mining runoff, erosion of natural deposits, emission from glass and electronics processing and the use of arsenical compounds in wood preservatives and pesticides.

At the bottom of the page is a link to the water report for this area. Unfortunately, it’s not consistent. It lists more contaminants than just arsenic. It also notes that five chemicals were found that exceed health guidelines, not one (the national average is four). It says that 11 pollutants were found, the national average is eight.

The table on that page lists the five contaminants exceeding health guidelines (but perfectly legal). Top of the list is 1,2,3-Trichloropropane, an industrial solvent and paint remover. This stuff clocks in at 0.34-1.12 parts per billion. The health limit is <0.01 ppb. Yikes.

But how come the Times did not list these chemicals on the prior page? I’ll have to re-read this, but it seems problematic.

Other water systems to check out include Schofield Barracks where tetrachloroethylene is identified as above health limits and a 2008 EPA violation occurred for coliform bacteria (link is in the lower right of the page). Hickam had a similar violation in 2009.

Probably the inconsistency would sort itself out with a little more study. Those folks at the New York Times are performing a great service with this series, which may spur states and the federal government to do its job and crack down on the polluters. No, I won’t hold my breath. The same bureaucrats that ignored safe drinking water laws are still in the EPA.

So here’s the Hawaii state page. You can browse by county near the bottom.

So should you run off and buy bottled water if you live in one of those areas? I need to close by pointing out something that most readers already know: bottled water is not only less regulated, but could be ordinary tap water resold at a high price. Or it could be water from a hole in the ground not too far behind the animal quarantine station (hey, I’m not knocking it, but that’s where one popular bottled water vendor is located, according to Google Earth).


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