Surfrider Calls on Hawai’i Department of Health to Put Public Health First

March 24 2016

San Clemente, CA, March 24, 2016 – The Surfrider Foundation Kaua’i Chapter has repeatedly presented water quality data documenting severe and chronic contamination in several island streams to the Hawai’i State Department of Health (HDOH).  And yet thus far, the Department of Health has not taken appropriate action in response to post warning signs at the beach. Surfrider recently released its annual water quality report that shows continuing pollution problems in Kauai’s coastal waters and which was again ignored by HDOH.

For the last seven years, the Kaua’i Chapter’s Blue Water Task Force, a volunteer-led water quality program, has tested over 25 surf breaks, streams and estuaries on a monthly basis. Data indicate that bacteria levels in many island streams are 10-100 times greater than the acceptable limit set by the state and EPA to protect public health in recreational waters. Four streams fail to meet health standards every single time they are tested, and five others have failed over 80% of the time. This is particularly disturbing because these are the same streams that families and children commonly choose to swim and play in.

Of major concern, the Waiopili Stream in Kaua’i has failed to meet state water quality criteria every time Surfrider has tested it. The latest bacteria test result obtained on March 12, 2016 was nearly 120 times greater than the health standard.  The statistics are more than alarming — this is a dangerous public health situation.

“Unfortunately the families and children who love to play in these polluted streams as they flow across the beach don’t know to stay out. Why?  Because the Hawai’i State Department of Health refuses to post warning signs,” said Dr. Carl Berg, the Surfrider Foundation’s Blue Water Task Force coordinator in Kauai and former Environmental Health Specialist for HDOH. “I’ve made several pleas to the Department of Health leadership and each time they have dismissed our data without taking any significant action to address this public health risk.”

HDOH receives an annual grant from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help pay for its beach water quality monitoring and public notification program.  According to guidance provided by the EPA, HDOH is required to notify the public when bacteria levels exceed or are expected to exceed state determined, and federally recommended, water quality criteria. HDOH only posts warning signs of high bacteria levels at the beach when there is a known human source of the contamination, such as a sewage spill or culpable cesspool. Otherwise, they do nothing, letting people unknowingly venture into potentially polluted water and risk getting sick with stomach and digestion ailments, flu-like symptoms, hard-to-treat skin infections, or something worse.

Surfrider calls on the Hawai’i Department of Health to do the right thing: acknowledge the citizen-science data presented, take immediate steps to protect public health by posting warning signs along all polluted coastal waters, conduct a serious investigation into the sources of pollution, and ultimately start fixing the problems.

Find out which beaches test clean before you go into the water on Surfrider’s Blue Water Task Force website.

ABOUT SURFRIDER FOUNDATION

The Surfrider Foundation is a non-profit grassroots organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of our world’s oceans, waves and beaches through a powerful activist network. Founded in 1984 by a handful of visionary surfers in Malibu, California, Surfrider now maintains over 250,000 supporters, activists and members worldwide. Learn more at surfrider.org.