Hawaii receiving federal aid and funds for molasses spill

RAW: Molasses spill kills thousands of fish
Published: Sep. 13, 2013 at 10:57 AM HST|Updated: Sep. 13, 2013 at 5:03 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today that it is sending two on-scene coordinators to Oahu to assist the State in its response to the spill of an estimated 224,000 gallons of molasses on Monday.

"After several conversations with officials at the Environmental Protection Agency, the agency has decided to send two on-scene coordinators with expertise in spill response to Oahu today to assist the state," said Sen. Brian Schatz. "This is a serious situation, and it requires a coordinated, aggressive response at all levels of government."

The EPA personnel have expertise in spill response and plan to meet with State officials and other federal agencies involved with addressing the spill shortly after their arrival.

According to EPA officials, molasses spills can be technically challenging to contain and clean up, as methods used on oil spills such as floating booms and skimming to contain the liquid are ineffective.

The State has also requested assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard, which makes Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) funding available for expenses related to this spill. The Coast Guard will coordinate the response, with direct involvement from the State of Hawai'i, the EPA, and NOAA.

"Our federal partners are to be commended for recognizing the gravity of the spill, and I am grateful they have rallied so quickly to provide aid and resources to support the State," said Schatz.

NOAA has been providing technical and scientific expertise, along with forecasts for dispersal of the molasses-tainted waters of the harbor. According to the agency, with the weak tidal currents, the contaminated water may take a while to completely flush out of the harbor and lagoon.

NOAA officials say that they are not yet certain precisely how the molasses is killing sea life. Unlike oil, molasses isn't toxic, but University of Hawai'i scientists have reported to NOAA that they have observed coral bleaching and sloughing tissue in areas adjacent to and downstream of the spill site. They also observed numerous dead invertebrates. Efforts to understand the exact biological process at work is ongoing, and NOAA scientists will team up with University of Hawai'i and EPA experts.

Federal officials cautioned that there is very little precedent on how to proceed. Due to the nature of molasses, skimming and normal oxygenation techniques may not work. EPA described a possible strategy of deploying what are known as "air curtains"—long air bubbler tubes—in the most sensitive areas affected, but it is uncertain how effective this strategy will be.

"I want to thank Sen. Schatz for his initiative in coordinating this effort for federal assistance," said Governor Abercrombie. "We welcome the expertise and the resources of the federal government, as we do our best to cleanup this unprecedented spill and protect our ocean environment."

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