Maui County

Maui ailments
prompt meeting

Some suspect that the problems
stem from the county’s water

By Gary T. Kubota

WAILUKU >> Kula resident Nancy Pilger said she began getting a "slight sore throat" last summer and was not able to trace the cause until she spoke to other women with similar symptoms.

"When I started to talk to other people, I thought, 'Oh my gosh. It's the water,'" said Pilger, who lives in Polipoli.

Complaints about skin, mouth and throat irritations have risen to the point that Maui County water officials are planning to hold a public meeting at 5 p.m. Thursday at the Hannibal Tavares Community Center in Pukalani.

County water director David Craddick said there have been several complaints, enough to merit an inquiry.

"I've got to presume that the people are telling the truth and something needs to be done," Craddick said.

Several women in Kula and Makawao believe the problem stems from the addition of the corrosion inhibitor zinc orthophosphate to reduce the amount of lead in county water in some areas.

Dr. George Martin, a Kihei dermatologist, said he has had three or four patients describe the same symptoms and believes their problems are tied to a change in the county water.

"I think there's something to it," he said.

Since June of last year, the county has been adding zinc orthophosphate to reduce the lead content in drinking water in Kula, Makawao and Pukalani.

State and county officials said in testing in 2000, more than 10 percent of the homes recorded a lead level at 37 parts per billion, exceeding U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards requiring less than 15 ppb.

Severe lead poisoning can lead to miscarriages and birth defects.

William Wong, chief of the state Health Department's Safe Drinking Water Branch, said the county had been exceeding the federal lead level standards for several years and exploring various solutions before turning to the use of a corrosion inhibitor.

He said testing in April found the corrosion inhibitor had lowered lead content to 10.6 parts per billion.

Wong said the chemical has been approved for use by the National Science Foundation, and he knew of no complaints occurring about the use of corrosion inhibitors in other places.

He said the chemical has also been used in other systems for five to 10 years, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Sacramento, Calif.

He said in addition to Maui, corrosion inhibitors have been used since late last year in the Waimea system on the Big Island.

State officials are planning to expand the use of zinc orthophosphate to seven other areas outside Oahu, including Kokee on Kauai, he said.

Several Maui women said they noticed that after continually showering with county water, they had dry skin that became itchy and sometimes left them with a burning sensation.

"It started to get this white look," said a Maui recording artist who goes by the name of Diesel.

Diesel and a couple of other women said they have been boiling water filtered through a reverse osmosis system in their homes and using it to wash themselves without experiencing skin irritation.

Craddick said the department may reduce the zinc orthophosphate in the water to 1 parts per billion from 3 ppb next month, if tests continue to show a decrease in lead levels.

He said he does not know if the cause of the people's problem is the corrosive inhibitor or other chemicals in the water.

Craddick said water officials are considering retaining a physician to conduct an investigation.

County of Maui

E-mail to City Desk


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