Study: Aging cesspools threaten Hawaii's drinking water, oceans

Cesspools could soon impact your drinking water, DOH says
Published: Dec. 19, 2017 at 10:28 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 21, 2017 at 11:25 AM HST
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(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii's clean drinking and recreational waters could soon be impacted by aging cesspools, a new Department of Health report says.

According to the DOH, Hawaii has more cesspools than any other state, about 88,000. Nearly half of those are located in areas that require urgent action.

"The report findings are troubling and show wastewater from cesspools is beginning to impact drinking water in some parts of upcountry Maui," Health Director Dr. Virginia Pressler said. "The water in these areas is still safe to drink, with no evidence of bacterial contamination; however, there are early warning signs that tell us we must act now to protect the future of our drinking water and the environment."

The DOH says cesspools allow untreated wastewater -- about 53 million gallons a day -- to infiltrate Hawaii's groundwater supply, increasing the risk for the spread of diseases and contamination.

The DOH also says Hawaii gets over 90 percent of its drinking water from groundwater.

"We're shocked. We knew cesspools were bad in Hawaii. We didn't know the extent of it," said Marti Townsend, the Sierra Club of Hawaii's director.

"Continuing to use cesspools in this way, it's third world. It's disgusting that we are burying human waste in a hole and it's leaching out into our ground water supplies."

Added Keith Kawaoka, DOH deputy director of the Environmental Health Administration"

"All cesspools pose a serious threat to our natural environment, and the 14 priority areas are our greatest concern as we are seeing the start of potential impacts to Hawaii's shoreline and drinking water resources," he said

The priority areas focused in the report include Upcountry Maui; Kahaluu, Diamond Head, Waimanalo, Waialua and Ewa on Oahu; Kapoho, Keaau, Puako, Hilo Bay and Kailua/Kona coastal areas on Hawaii Island; and Kapaa/Wailua, Poipu/Koloa and Hanalei Bay on Kauai.

It is estimated it will cost $1.75 billion to upgrade cesspool systems across the state.

Current state law eliminates cesspools in Hawaii by 2050.

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