Bottled water distributed to hundreds after toxic ‘forever chemicals’ found in Kunia well

The state is trying to determine after the water got into the well.
Published: Mar. 24, 2023 at 5:21 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 24, 2023 at 5:34 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Health Department is investigating where toxic “forever chemicals” came from in Central Oahu after tests confirmed a contaminated well in the Kunia Village drinking water system.

Hawaii News Now has learned hundreds of residents are getting bottled water.

Kunia Village is an affordable housing development for agricultural workers. The Department of Health says the well that was contaminated serves about 650 people. The Kunia Water Association started delivering 5-gallon jugs of bottled water to residents earlier this month as a precaution and has 150 jugs ready for the long haul.

Late last year, the Department of Health discovered chemicals known as PFAS several times above the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed maximum contaminant level in Kunia Village’s well no. 3. The well is owned by the Army and operated by the Kunia Water Association.

Dennis Lopez, chief of the state’s Safe Water Drinking Branch, said the EPA proposed limit for the “forever chemicals” PFOA and PFOS is 4 parts per trillion.

But in the problem well, levels for PFOA were 20 to 27 parts per trillion.

And values for PFOS were 45 to 50.

“The water is not healthy for drinking long-term so because of that we recommend people take advantage of the provided bottled water for cooking, drinking and oral hygiene,” said Dr. Diana Felton, state toxicologist.

The Kunia Water Association told Hawaii News Now it has shut down the well.

“We’ll develop a plan together with the Army and Kunia Water Association to investigate nearby wells” said Sven Lindstrom, voluntary cleanup program specialist at the state’s Hazard Evaluation and Emergency Response Office.

“Perhaps we’ll have to drill more wells to try to track down the extent of the groundwater that’s been impacted by this contaminant and hopefully chase it back to its source.”

There’s growing national concern over PFAS chemicals, which have been used since the 1940s and linked to several health impacts, including developmental delay in children similar to lead exposure and kidney and testicular cancer.

Kunia Village resident Rosalinda Lagua, 86, speaks Ilocano. Her daughter told Hawaii News Now that her mother doesn’t know why a water dispenser was delivered to her house and she doesn’t want to use it.

Despite the PFAS detection, the state toxicologist says there’s no immediate health threat from the drinking water.

Hawaii News Now asked if the PFAS came from agricultural uses, nearby military bases or another source, but the Department of Health and Army say the source is unknown.

“It’s premature to say where the detectable levels of PFAS found in Kunia Village Well no 3 originated from. If the Army determines that it is the source of PFAS in any off-installation drinking water wells, the Army will take appropriate action,” said Michael O. Donnelly, a spokesperson for U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii.

The Kunia Water Association says it will continue to deliver water until it gets more information.

“We are working the problem and making sure the agricultural community gets good and safe water,” said Stephanie Whalen, president of the Kunia Water Association.

Links for DOH’s PFAS webpage and factsheets:

PFAS Website

PFAS Factsheet #1

PFAS Factsheet #2