Honolulu Harbor showing improvement after molasses spill - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Honolulu Harbor showing improvement after molasses spill

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Nearly a week after the Matson molasses spill, a visual check of Honolulu Harbor showed improving conditions. But work still continued on finding the exact cause of the spill and preventing it from happening again.

Reporters were taken on a boat tour of the harbor Saturday and were taken a closer look at the source of the leak. 

Chris Lee, Matson's safety manager and facility security officer, said a ship was loaded with molasses at Matson's pier 52 Sunday morning. However, the leak wasn't really noticed until Monday. That's when divers were sent to inspect risers -- large pipes used to pump molasses -- along the pier to try to find the source.

"The divers started at this riser (near where the ship was docked), and then they swam to that riser and that riser, and then they dove every riser along our piers," Lee said, pointing to various risers. "And then they videotaped every single riser that we own to try to figure out what was going on."

Lee said no leaks were found on those risers, but divers continued down the pier. It was Tuesday when they finally found where the molasses had gone through a corroded valve and leaked beneath the Horizon Lines shipping piers. 

Lee said he didn't know how old the pipe is, when it was last inspected, or who even owns it. "It is not a regulated pipeline, such as the oil pipelines that are here. But we are doing everything we can do understand the problem, to make sure it doesn't happen again," he said.

Lee also said that Matson is the only shipper of molasses in the state, and takes full responsibility for the spill.

Meanwhile, scientists said nature may be doing its part to restore the harbor. Samples taken Thursday by University of Hawaii scientists showed lower oxygen levels, which they said was evidence that bacteria were feasting on the molasses.

"The problem is when you have so much carbon in the water, so much sugar in the water, the bacteria grow on it, the oxygen goes down, and that causes stress for all the animals in the water that need oxygen to breathe," said Grieg Steward, an associate professor of oceanography at U.H.'s Center for Microbial Oceanography: Research and Education.

Steward also said water samples showed bacteria levels three to four times higher than normal in the middle of the molasses plume that was seen near the spill area Thursday.

In the harbor, cleanup crews were still finding dead fish, but fewer of them compared to previous days. And officials with the state Health Department said the water was a lot clearer as well.

"The winds and the rains and the currents and the tides have pretty much restored the central part of Honolulu Harbor to support life. So that's great news," said Gary Gill, deputy director for the Environmental Health Division.

However, health department scientists taking water samples said that oxygen levels were still lower than normal in Keehi Lagoon and the area of Lagoon Drive near the reef runway of Honolulu Airport.

"The impact has shifted from the harbor to the far side of Lagoon Drive," said Gill. "I would antcipate in the next couple of days we'll see a clearer restoration there in the Keehi Lagoon area."

Warning signs telling people to stay out of the water will still remain in place, Gill said.


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