DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH
Signs warning of contamination have been posted at Kualoa park since Dec. 3.
Contamination warning off Kualoa becoming permanent
After more than two months of high bacteria levels in the ocean off Kualoa Beach Park, the state Department of Health has replaced temporary cardboard signs with metal ones warning people not to swim, fish or boat there.
A department memo that circulated Tuesday when the signs were erected said, "We do not see any short-term solution to this problem and the public needs to be protected."
The sturdier metal signs replace cardboard ones, which have been posted since Dec. 3, when multiple tests of water at the city park showed higher bacterial levels than state standards, said Dale Mikami, a Clean Water Branch environmental health specialist.
The Health Department posts warning signs when bacteria that indicate the presence of human or animal feces reach "a geometric mean of 7 colony-forming units per 100 milliliters of water, taken over 30 days with at least five samples," according to an e-mailed memo from Watson Okubo, Clean Water Branch monitoring supervisor.
In his e-mail to city and state water officials, lifeguards and others, Okubo described how bacteria levels at Kualoa reached a geometric mean of 65 colony-forming units per 100 milliliters of water for the month of November.
The best way to understand the measurement is to realize that 7 is the threshold number for concern, and higher numbers mean an increased chance of people getting sick from going into the water, Mikami explained.
Okubo was not working yesterday and unavailable for comment.
The most common question from the public when there are contamination postings is "Is it safe to go in the water?" Mikami said.
"We tell them what our testing results found, and caution them not to go in," Mikami said. "The primary thing we're concerned about is bodily contact and getting sick."
The source of the water contamination "might be the restrooms, but we are not positive," Mikami said.
Fortunately, the problem occurred since cold weather set in, and not many people go into the water at Kualoa, said Jim Howe, chief of lifeguard services for the city. The city puts lifeguards at the park only on weekends during winter months, he said.
Howe said he is not aware of any reports of people getting sick from going into the water at Kualoa recently.
"Over the years, we have had periodic concerns with what looked to be feces coming onto shore at Kualoa," Howe said. Health Department officials "looked into that, and we were assured it was turtle feces."
The indicator bacteria used by the Health Department (Enterococci and Clostridium perfrigens) are associated with warmblooded animals and humans.
Howe said that since the current problem continues, he will be meeting with city and state officials soon "to make a determination here exactly what we're going to do."
Since being informed of high bacteria readings in November, the city has "closed one bathroom, capped pipes and closed a leach field," city spokesman Bill Brennan said yesterday.
The city is using pumper trucks to remove sewage from the cesspools that serve the three open restrooms every other day until further notice, Brennan said. And the city will ask the state to test waters north of the park for possible sources of contamination, he said.