The New York Times


April 23, 2006

After Spill, Waikiki Sand Is Clean, Health Group Says

HONOLULU, April 22 (AP) Concerns that a huge sewage spill polluted Waikiki's world-famous beaches are fading after a health group said the sand seemed to be clean.

Almost a month after the city discharged millions of gallons of raw sewage into an open-ocean canal, leading to warnings being posted on some beaches, the group, the Healthy Hawaii Coalition, said tests on sand concluded that "it seems some of the areas are cleaner than what a lot of us worried they would be."

Tulsi Gabbard Tamayo, a former state legislator and a co-founder and vice president of the group, said, "I'm relieved to get these results and hope they bring some peace of mind to others."

Chiyome Fukino, the state health director, said there was no point in testing the sand after the spill because studies had never been able to link human illness to bacteria found in the sand.

"All the evidence that we have today says that the beaches are as safe now as they were before the sewage," Ms. Fukino said. "We have not had any increase in the number of illnesses and the water is testing good."

Concern still lingers in the State Legislature, where the House and Senate have considered resolutions that could lead to more formal testing of the beach sand wherever high bacteria levels are found in the water.

The latest analysis, conducted by Hawaii Food and Water Testing, showed mostly acceptable levels of bacteria, with the worst results near a Kailua Beach boat ramp on the other side of the island from Waikiki. Pollution in that area was mostly from runoff caused by heavy rains.

Healthy Hawaii said it had the sand tested because of reports that some beachgoers had fallen ill.

Last month, Oliver Johnson, 34, a Honolulu mortgage broker, died days after plunging into sewage-contaminated waters and contracting a flesh-eating bacterial infection. His family blamed the polluted water, but a medical examiner's report noted that Mr. Johnson also had other medical problems.

Earlier this week, George Koenig, 65, said his doctors had found a bacterial infection in his foot after he walked on Waikiki Beach.

The city decided to pump 48 million gallons of wastewater into the Ala Wai Canal after a sewer main burst March 24. Beach activity around the islands has been light in recent weeks, after record rainfall and runoff.

Workers fixed the underground pipe six days later, but by then, wastewater had spread into the ocean, prompting officials to post hundreds of signs along beaches warning of polluted water.

City and state officials tested water quality off Waikiki daily and began taking down the warning signs early this month, but the sand was not sampled before the testing by Healthy Hawaii.

Toni Komu, whose two young children were coated in sand while building castles at Ala Moana Beach on a sunny Friday afternoon, welcomed the news.

"I had been a little concerned about the quality of the sand when we got here this morning," said Mr. Komu, who avoided the beach for three weeks after the spill. "It's good to know that it's O.K."