Maui County

Maui may get OK
to switch water additive

The county must first test
an alternative to phosphoric acid

WAILUKU >> Mayor Alan Arakawa said Maui County has received tentative state approval to halt the use of an additive in Upcountry water suspected of causing allergic reactions.

But Arakawa said the state Department of Health is requiring successful testing of an alternative additive before halting the use of phosphoric acid.

"I have ordered that steps toward meeting the DOH conditions be taken immediately so the county can terminate the use of phosphoric acid as soon as is practicable," Arakawa said yesterday.

Maui Water Director George Tengan estimated that the testing will take about four weeks.

Phosphoric acid has been used Upcountry since July 2001 to coat water pipes and reduce the leaching of lead.

The state Safe Drinking Water Branch has approved the use of soda ash as an alternative in reducing lead.

William Wong, chief of the state Safe Drinking Water Branch, said he wants to make sure that the soda ash keeps the lead content in drinking water below the federal action level.

Wong said the use of soda ash also has be to regulated, because it can raise the sodium levels in drinking water.

More than 150 people have complained about skin rashes and throat and eye irritation since phosphoric acid was added to Upcountry water system in July 2001.

More than 9 percent of the 33,000 people living Upcountry have the symptoms, according to an estimate by a state health official.

Water Department spokeswoman Jacky Takakura said county officials are still receiving complaints, but not as many as before.

Takakura said she doesn't know the reason for the reduction, but noted that the county did reduce the amount of phosphoric acid a couple of weeks ago after lead levels fell below federal action levels in the Upcountry area.

Takakura said county water officials will continue to provide water tankers without phosphoric acid at several Upcountry locations.

She said the planned switch in additives will enhance a county water study to determine if adjusting the acidity of water can reduce its lead content.

The study, conducted by professor Marc Edwards, of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, is expected to be completed by the end of July.

She said county water officials were still evaluating the effect the switch might have on conducting other studies that were to be funded through a $500,000 federal grant.

County of Maui


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