Environmentalists criticize health department for delayed toxic chemical reporting in Kunia Village

There's growing national concern over PFAS forever chemicals because of its potential links to several health issues including cancer.
Published: Mar. 27, 2023 at 5:28 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 27, 2023 at 8:29 PM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Environmental advocates are criticizing the Department of Health for the delay in telling the public that a drinking water well in Kunia Village was contaminated with toxic forever chemicals.

Hawaii News Now reported last week, hundreds of residents are getting bottled water.

The State Health Department discovered PFAS known as toxic forever chemicals several times above the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed maximum contaminant levels in well no. 3 serving Kunia Village. Well no. 3 has been shut down and is owned by the Army and operated by the Kunia Water Association.

“It’s actually quite shocking,” said Melodie Aduja, environmental co-chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii. She says health officials should have told the public sooner.

The health department took water samples this past September. PFAS chemicals were detected on Oct. 6, 2022. The Department of Health got another confirmation of PFAS on Nov. 23. DOH notified the public on Jan. 20, 2023.

“When you go through the timeline that they provided it’s unbelievable,” said Aduja.

“That’s a four-month span before the public is even made aware of the dangers of this liquid cancer and forever chemical,” she added.

In an exclusive interview, state health officials acknowledged the delay. Water suppliers are required to report contamination to the health department, but in this case, it was the state doing the testing as part of a study.

“I think there was some confusion within our own operation of how that was going to be reported,” said Dennis Lopez, Branch Chief, Safe Drinking Water Branch, Department of Health.

“It got stuck in one section that was doing the study and it didn’t get reported in a timely fashion to our compliance section to initiate the notice within the department,” he added.

There are 138 public water systems statewide and health officials are testing to find out what toxic chemicals are in the water.

PFAS chemicals have been used since the 1940′s and there have been seven recent PFAS detections in wells in Waipio Heights, Makakilo, Kunia Waipahu, Kipapa, Aina Koa and the Navy’s Aiea Halawa Shaft.

PFAS website here.

Health officials say the Kunia Village water contamination also came to light during another crisis; the Navy’s firefighting foam spill at Red Hill.

State regulators say they’ve since clarified their internal process. Regulations require that suppliers of water must notify health officials of a contamination detection within seven days. Then the department has 14 days to tell the public.