Cruise line controls odors, tests emissions

Norwegian Cruise Lines America has eliminated sewage-like smells coming from its vessels in the Niumalu area after months of complaints by residents led to community meetings.

Residents say they are thankful NCL resolved the sewage odor issue months ago, but remain dissatisfied with the “inconclusive” results of its investigation into the ships’ smokestack emissions. An investigation into complaints about “diesel-like odors” is ongoing, the Hawai‘i Department of Health’s Rod Yama said yesterday.

“The whole community is really up in arms,” Nawiliwili resident Gary Craft said. “The real concern is our future, our kids. All I want is for cruise ships to burn cleaner diesel fuel instead of bunker fuel when they’re in the harbor, do some tests and have the tests say I won’t get sick from the emissions.”

After a November 2006 community meeting with residents and health officials, NCL hired a consultant to research emission odors, according to Yama.

The septic smells coming from the NCL ship last summer and early winter were “so bad that when I was trying to open my gate I almost threw up,” Nawiliwili resident Sandra Toerge said. The carbon odors — associated with smokestack emissions — are like “riding behind a bus,” she added.

At a community meeting Saturday aboard the “Pride of Hawaii,” NCL told residents its study showed the ship’s “digester” to be the source of the “sewage-like smells,” Yama said.

NCL released a statement Saturday saying it had “revised its waste handling practices and believes the matter has been resolved.”

NCL now runs the ship’s digester at sea instead of in the harbor, Yama said. The digester works in conjunction with an onboard waste treatment plant.

But NCL reported at the meeting that its study of the ship’s exhaust odors was “inconclusive,” according to Yama and Niumalu residents who attended.

“The meeting wasn’t at all satisfying. It was a good effort by NCL to have the Department of Health and representatives taking us seriously, but the fact that the result was that it was inconclusive was disturbing to me,” community member Terri Harris said. “I hope it’s not a way to skirt the issue or buy time. We want the truth. We want something we can understand. It was a slight insult to our intelligence.”

Other residents, like scientist Mike Austin, echoed these sentiments.

“The meeting, if you talk with any of the 15 to 20 residents who attended, we all felt (it) ranged from a farce to being deceived by NCL. They didn’t present all the evidence,” he said.

At the meeting NCL acknowledged that its tests “got hits for hydrocarbons,” Austin said, but would not share the information with the community.

NCL denied a reporter for The Garden Island access to the meeting Saturday. NCL also declined to comment for this report.

“The neighborhood is committed to continuing the fight,” Austin said, adding that the struggle to protect communities from dangerous emissions is against the whole shipping industry, not just NCL.

Austin gave credit to NCL for its effort to address community concerns, but said it fell short.

“Cruise ship companies issue lines promoting paradise and they’re polluting it,” he said. “There could be some win-win situations. There is precedent in California for burning diesel instead of bunker fuel in harbors.”

Bunker fuel costs less than diesel or marine distillate fuels, but contains a higher sulfur content and more particulate matter. Scientists say switching to cleaner burning fuels, especially while docked in ports, can significantly reduce harmful cruise ship emissions and cancer risks.

NCL is reportedly studying this issue, Yama said.

The Health Department is investigating NCL’s exhaust emissions, according to Yama, who works for the enforcement section of environmental health services on Kaua‘i, a division of the Health Department’s Clean Air Branch.

After NCL resolved complaints of sewage-like smells, Yama said he switched from sampling the Niumalu community for hydrogen sulfide traces to testing for the presence of sulfur dioxide and hydrocarbons with Ogawa samplers.

Hydrogen sulfide is a product of decaying organics, for example, and can determine the presence of sewage. Sulfur dioxide and hydrocarbons would be the byproduct of a cruise ship combusting petroleum, he said.

Yama — who reported at the meeting Saturday that he received the first odor complaint July 18, 2006 — said individual wastewater systems, machinery and vehicles can also leave traces of sulfur dioxide and hydrocarbons.

He said today he will collect for lab analysis the filters used with the passive sulfur dioxide detectors, which were set up around the Niumalu community four weeks ago.

“The Health Department’s role is collecting evidence in complying with Hawai‘i statutes regarding air emissions,” Yama said.

• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or neagle@kauaipubco.com.

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