State officials say recent claims of pollution unfounded

LIHU‘E — After a North Shore resident disclosed earlier this week that recent test results pointed to high levels of metal pollution in Hanalei River and Hanalei Bay, state officials quickly dismissed the findings, saying they are unfounded and have created unnecessary fear and concern in the community.

Gary Gill, Deputy Director for Environmental Health at the state Department of Health, said the Hanalei watershed, including the river and the bay, are probably the most studied and managed water system in the state.

“For decades the department of health and community members have been investigating a variety of potential pollution causes, and working together to resolve any pollution in the Hanalei area,” Gill said. “The samples of sediments that were taken for metals indicated only that there was no metallic pollution in the sediments.”

The levels of metallic sediments found by Terry Lilley were completely normal, according to Gill.

“The metals that were found are found naturally in the soil, so there was absolutely no reason to be concerned based on the test results that were found by Mr. Lilley,” Gill said.

The report released by Lilley last week shows that Hanalei River has 29 milligrams per kilogram of arsenic, 19 mg/Kg  of barium, 120 mg/Kg  of chromium and 2.4 mg/Kg of lead. The report also shows that Hanalei Bay waters have 18 mg/Kg of arsenic, 7.0 mg/Kg of barium, 65 mg/Kg of chromium and 1.3 mg/Kg of lead.

DOH spokeswoman Janice Okubo sent a press release Wednesday, two days after Lilley’s report was published, stating the department is “very concerned” about the misleading information.

“The concentrations of arsenic, barium, chromium and lead reported by Terry Lilley with the  Hanalei River heritage Foundation are within anticipated, natural background levels for the volcanic soils and related sediments of the Hawaiian islands,” Okubo states. “The metals are naturally occurring, are tightly bound within minerals in the soil and are not toxic to humans or wildlife.”

Gill said the metals found in the water are due the volcanic nature of the island. If Lilley’s tests showed “dramatically higher” numbers, he said, the DOH would look for a potential source of pollution, but that is not the case.

“There is nothing unusual about those numbers and there is no source of heavy metal contamination in the bay,” Gill said.

Okubo said in the release the levels of metals found in Hanalei are similar to levels that would be found anywhere else in the islands, are not manmade, and have been “well documented” in numerous reports over the past several decades.

“The terrestrial and aquatic flora and fauna of Kaua‘i have lived with these metals since the island was created millions of years ago,” Okubo said.

Lilley “incorrectly” compared the sediments he found to regulatory standards for drinking water, according to Okubo.

• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@thegardenisland.com

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