Friday, July 16, 1999

No isle beaches closed in
1998 due to pollution

By Pete Pichaske
Phillips News Service


WASHINGTON -- For the first time since surveys began in 1991, no beaches in Hawaii were closed to swimmers in 1998 because of pollution, according to an annual survey by a national environmental organization.

But the lack of closings or swimming advisories appeared to be due in part to inconsistently applied standards, according to the National Resources Defense Council.

The report praised Hawaii for having one of the strictest standards for bacteria in the nation for measuring water quality.

Project Director Sarah Chasis noted, however, the state "does not always close a beach if the standard has been exceeded."

As in years past, the report noted that Hawaii relies on other factors, such as the presence of raw sewage, before closing a beach.

"In Hawaii ... most towns and counties only sometimes issue advisories and closings when standards are exceeded," stated the report.

Terence Teruya, state environmental health specialist, said postings were put up at sites advising the public to stay out of the water.

High levels of organisms such as enterococcus do not necessarily mean that there is a threat to public health, Teruya said, because the organism can also come from animals like birds and cats, which do not contain the human pathogens that can make people sick.

Hawaii's climate causes these organisms to grow fast in the soil, and heavy rains can wash the soil into the streams and ocean, Teruya said.

EPA standards do not account for bacteria contamination from animals, he said.

When it comes to standards, "we have to make sure that there's actually a situation where people can get sick," Teruya said.

If postings were made strictly by national standards, not accounting for the other factors, warning signs would need to be put up after every heavy rain, Teruya said.

In the previous eight surveys, the number of days Hawaii's beaches have been closed due to water problems ranged from one in 1997 to 106 in 1991.

Nationwide, the report found a record number of advisories and beach closures, which it attributed at least in part to better monitoring.

The report praised several communities for running effective beach monitoring programs, including Cape May, N.J., Myrtle Beach, S.C., North Carolina's Outer Banks, Maine's Old Orchard Beach and the Warren Dunes in Michigan.

Hawaii's beach-monitoring program was rated between the best and the worst. State beaches were tested five to seven times per month, which was above the national average.

Star-Bulletin reporter Dawn D. Sagario contributed to this report.

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