Amid water quality confusion, researchers offer free testing for impacted Maui residents

For Maui residents and businesses impacted by the wildfire each day without clean drinking water is difficult
Published: Sep. 11, 2023 at 5:13 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 11, 2023 at 7:22 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Department of Health announced Monday that a trace amount of the contaminant toluene was found in the Upper Kula Water System.

But Maui County’s Director of Water Supply says more recent tests show no sign of the chemical.

The unsafe water issue can be confusing so UH water researchers are offering free testing — just like they did during the Red Hill tainted water crisis.

Maui residents and businesses impacted by unsafe water advisories say each day without clean drinking water is difficult. “We are looking for the negative results as far as the water goes. We still have to wait for an all clear,” said Isa Shipley, Kula Lodge chief operating officer.

The state Department of Health says toluene is used as an industrial feed stock and a solvent was detected at the Upper Kula Treatment Plant in trace levels well below health action levels.

“This strongly suggests its presence was an artifact of the wildfire impacting the surface water source for the Upper Kula Treatment Plant.” said DOH, in a news release.

Maui County Director of Water Supply John Stufflebean said the latest test showed no detection of toluene. That means 85% of Kula could have the “do not drink” advisory lifted within a week.

“DOH was unaware that MDWS did not detect toluene in its most recent tests at the time this news release was written,” said DOH spokesperson Shawn Hamamoto.

The University of Hawaii Water Resources Research Center is conducting free testing and is analyzing the county’s water data. “Our hope is that Department of Water Supply is going to be able to lift advisories in some of the low risk parts of the system fairly soon,” said Christopher Shuler, researcher with University of Hawaii Water Resources Research Center.

“From what we have seen in our samples in Kula and what we have seen in the Department of Water Supply’s samples is that primarily we haven’t seen any concerning levels of volatile organics in the water in Upper Kula,” he added.

The UH water testing is not EPA-certified.

Shuler, who is a Maui resident, says residents should still follow government health advisories.

“People do have to make your own decision on things like showering or watering their plants because really this is all based on unknowns,” said Shuler.

The county’s water director says when homes are burned in a fire like this, service connections are opened. “When those pipes are opened and a system loses pressure then ash and smoke can actually get into those pipes and that’s how the contamination gets in,” said Stufflebean.

Impacted Maui residents can click here for a free water test.