Sand tests show little risk
The state health chief opposes calls for more tests, as no standards have been established
Sand at Kailua Beach has higher levels of fecal indicator bacteria than Ala Moana Beach and two spots in Waikiki, but none of the counts appear to pose a health risk, according to an Oahu environmental group.
Healthy Hawaii Coalition took the sand tests Thursday, citing public concerns over beach safety following the recent sewage main breaks in Waikiki that sent more than 50 million gallons of waste water into the Ala Wai Canal.
"It seems some of the areas are cleaner than what a lot of us worried they would be, especially in the Waikiki area," coalition official Tulsi Gabbard Tamayo said yesterday in announcing the results. "The area that we are still concerned about is Kailua Beach, which has higher bacteria levels."
Some beaches still contaminated
Levels of enterococcus bacteria, which indicate contamination, remain high at several spots along Waikiki after a massive sewage spill last month. For near-shore waters, the state's accepted standard for enterococcus in the water is 7 colony-forming units per 100 milliliters of sampled water. The numbers of colony-forming units found in tests taken Thursday are as follows:
Source: State Department of Health
|| Colony-forming Units
|Ala Wai Harbor
|Ala Moana Canoe Launch
|Magic Island Finger
|Hale Koa Hotel
During the recent heavy rain, waste-water spills occurred along the Windward Oahu coast.
The group found that sand at Kailua Beach had 24 "colony-forming units" of enterococcus per 100 grams, and 60 colonies of Clostridium perfringens in the same sample.
Waikiki Beach near Duke's Restaurant had 46 colonies of clostridium, while Ala Moana Beach had 16. The beach fronting Hilton Hawaiian Village had negligible amounts of bacteria.
Gabbard Tamayo said she hopes the results spur the state to consider regular sand testing after sewage spills. "People have a right to know whether our beaches are clean," she said.
But Dr. Chiyome Fukino, the state Health Department's director, said the tests are worthless because there are no bacteria-level standards for sand. The state also does not test sand and so does not have historical counts.
"You don't just throw these things together like you're baking a cake," Fukino said. "It doesn't mean a whole lot."
Meanwhile, a House panel passed a resolution yesterday asking the state Health Department to conduct sand testing where warning signs were posted following the Ala Wai spill.
"We're erring on the side of caution, and we're going to ask them to do some scientific analyses of the sand," state House Health Committee Vice Chairman Josh Green said.
"We all know there is bacteria in the sand. The question is, Because of the new problems with the flooding and the sewage break, do we have extra problems?"
Lawmakers provided no funds to cover the testing, but told health officials they could return to ask for an allocation.
Fukino said she is not sure how the department will meet the resolution's requirements, with funding so tight and current staffing already stretched. She also said meaningful tests would require a standard correlated with human illness. "We would have to design a study," she said.
Earlier this year -- before the heavy rain and sewage spills that plagued February and March -- a trio of eighth-graders at Our Redeemer Lutheran School took sand samples at four Oahu beaches to test for bacteria counts.
With help from Diagnostic Laboratory Services, they found that Kailua Beach had higher bacteria counts than Waimea Bay, Waikiki and Ko Olina, which came in second. Waikiki was third, and Waimea Bay had almost no bacteria. They also found that bacteria counts were higher farther from shore. The highest levels were measured 30 steps from the shoreline.
"On the news, I heard the state isn't really doing that much with the sand. They're mostly concerned with the water," said 13-year-old Cathy Yong yesterday.
Star-Bulletin reporter B.J. Reyes contributed to this report.