Untreated sewage
spills into harbor

2.3 million gallons flow from a
Pearl City site after an error

About 2.3 million gallons of raw sewage spilled in Pearl City yesterday, and more than half of it flowed into Pearl Harbor, city officials said.

The spill started at about noon after a contractor mistakenly opened a pressurized pipe while working to upgrade the Pearl City Wastewater Pumping Station, according to the officials.


The 12-inch pipe was improperly opened after an apparent miscommunication between city employees and contractors A&B Electric and Marisco, said Athan Adachi, chief of the city's Wastewater Treatment and Disposal Division. The contractors were making changes to the pumping station to make it more efficient, he said.

The station, at 790 Lehua Ave., moves about 40 million gallons of sewage daily from Pearl City and Aiea to the city's Honouliuli Wastewater Treatment Plant, Adachi said.

The spill stopped at 6:30 p.m., he said.

The city estimates that 2.3 million gallons of sewage escaped from the pipe and that 1.4 million of it went into nearby Waiawa Stream and down to Pearl Harbor's Middle Loch.

The rest was contained on the grounds of the pumping station by using pump trucks and portable pumps, Adachi said.

Pollution warning signs were posted yesterday, and water testing will be conducted until contamination from the spill has been diluted. The state Department of Health was notified, as is required with significant spills.

Nearby Lehua Elementary School, which is across the street from the pumping station, was not affected, Adachi said. However, several nearby residences reported sewage backups into homes.

The smell of sewage was noticeable last night near the pumping station but undetectable from Lehua Avenue.

City crews cleaned and disinfected the pumping station last night.

Adachi said there will be an investigation into how a "live" pipe was opened. If the mistake is found to be the contractors' fault, they will have to pay the cost of the cleanup, he said.

The cleanup's cost was unknown last night.

Yesterday's spill was due to human error and unrelated to the condition of the city's sewer system, Adachi said.

On March 4, 2 million gallons of raw sewage went into Mamala Bay from a break in a pressurized pipe at Sand Island. There have been sewage spills of 2 million gallons or more in four of the past six years. In 2003, sewage spills totaled 7.8 million gallons.

The city is under a 1995 Environmental Protection Agency consent decree to improve its sewer system. The task has an estimated cost of $1 billion.

The Health Department and EPA both have the authority to issue fines of up to $25,000 and $27,500 per incident for sewage spills.

The Health Department announced in April that the city could face fines of up to $3.5 million for spills between 1996 and then, but the administrative processing of the case has not been completed. In the past, the regulatory agencies have pushed for improvement rather than levying fines.

The Health Department will review water quality testing on Monday and determine if the effects of the spill have dissipated, said spokeswoman Janice Okubo.

Treatment & Disposal Division

State Health Department

E-mail to City Desk


© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- https://archives.starbulletin.com