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DOH Suggests Water Quality Test Adjustments

October 7, 2019, 8:39 AM HST
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Kekaha Kai State Park’s Manini‘ōwali Beach (Kua Bay) section, June 2019. PC: Hawai‘i DLNR

The Hawai‘i Department of Health monitors water quality at beaches across the state and has a system to notify the public when bacteria levels breach a dangerous threshold.

According to a new report, however, the information the HDOH Clean Water Branch has been disseminating may not accurately represent biohazardous threats, or the lack thereof, in Hawai‘i waters.

A representative of the department told KHON2 the state wants to change not only its testing method but what it’s actually testing for.

The Clean Water Branch tests for enterococci, a bacteria that in most places is indicative of the presence of fecal waste — either human, often from sewage leaks, or animal, which would likely be a product of runoff.

But Myron Honda, monitoring and analysis section supervisor with the branch, said testing for bacteria in Hawai‘i and correlating its presence to water contaminated by an outside source isn’t the best way to get accurate results.

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Due to the state’s tropical climate, bacteria grow more easily in its soil and streams with the presence of decaying organic matter, Honda said.

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Currently, the DOH and the University of Hawai‘i are mapping out a study for a new test, with the hopes of gaining clearance from the US Environmental Protection Agency to change how beaches in Hawai‘i are tested.

The new test would measure clostridium perfringens, a strain of clostridium present in decaying vegetation and marine sediment. The new test, Honda said, would correlate the presence of clostridium in the water with the presence and density of pathogens.

Those interested join Hawai‘i’s Water Quality Advisory network and receive notifications directly via email.

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