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Friday, November 17, 2000

Concern grows over
natatorium bacteria

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

The attorney for a group opposed to restoration of the Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium says a draft of new rules for saltwater pools does not go far enough to protect the public.

Mayor Jeremy Harris has stated he won't proceed with restoration work on the natatorium pool until the rules are in place, citing a June 1999 ruling by Circuit Judge Gail Nakatani.

A draft set of rules released late last month by the state Health Department has no provisions "either for testing for staphylococcus or for reducing staphylococcus," said Jim Bickerton, who represents the Kaimana Beach Coalition.

"They act like the problem doesn't exist," Bickerton said.

Staphylococcus is a type of bacteria that causes pus in boils and abscesses.

But Deputy Health Director Gary Gill said the department's swimming pool advisory committee "spent the better part of a year discussing every water quality issue conceivable."

Gill said the committee concluded: "There is no accepted method to test for staph and there is no public health standard for staph in salt water, therefore there is no standard we could legally put into the salt water swimming pool rules."

Bickerton isn't buying the reasoning. "Because you can't protect against staphylococcus, the answer isn't to just stick your head in the sand and say well, since there's no way to remove the staphylococcus, we'll just ignore it."

Responded Gill: "Then we ought not to have an ocean either because the water quality in the saltwater pool must meet our existing ocean standards." If those standards aren't met, he said, the pool would be closed to public swimming.

For instance, enterococcus counts cannot exceed a certain level, Gill said. There is also a water clarity test: a six-inch disc dropped onto the bottom at a pool's deepest point must be visible from above.

Bickerton countered that staph found in the pool won't be like that found in the open ocean. "The difference is you have a contained body of water that has a much lower circulation rate and diffusion rate than the ocean."

Gov. Ben Cayetano still must approve the rules before they go out for public hearing. The rules are not expected to be in place until at least the beginning of 2001.

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