Is the Water on Maui Safe After the Fires?
Maui County officials are urging residents to avoid using tap water for drinking, ice-making, brushing teeth, bathing and food preparation.
This story is part of our HONOLULU series, “We Have Questions,” with our editorial team tackling questions being asked in the aftermath of the recent Maui fires.
The Maui Department of Water Supply released test results from the first 27 samples collected from the Lahaina and Upper Kula drinking water systems. On Aug. 14, samples were collected and tested for 23 regulated volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Those compounds were only detected in 2 of the 27 collected samples. One sample came from Kaniau Road in Lahaina with 0.7 parts per billion of benzene, a carcinogen. The maximum contaminant level is 5 parts per billion. The sample from Upper Kula Treatment Plant detected toluene and xylenes at levels less than 0.5 parts per billion. The maximum contaminant level for toluene is 1,000 parts per billion and total xylene is 10,000 parts per billion. The Maui DWS maintains that although the results are reassuring, this is just a first step in a stringent process. More samples are being collected.
An “unsafe water” advisory remains in effect for Kula and Lahaina in the aftermath of the devastating fires. Maui County officials are urging residents to avoid using tap water for drinking, ice-making, brushing teeth, bathing and food preparation. The water contains carcinogenic chemical compounds and VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds) from decomposing debris and heat-degraded plastic pipes, according to the advisory posted on mauicounty.gov.
Maui County officials have ordered several rounds of tests and are awaiting the results to establish a timeline for decontamination and restoration. Maui samples have been prioritized, allowing for more samples to be tested at once. All sampling and testing procedures must comply with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the State of Hawai‘i’s Department of Health, Safe Drinking Water Branch.
For now, Maui residents are being urged to use bottled water or water from potable water buffalo tankers set up at designated locations across the island. Home filtration systems, no matter how robust, will be ineffective at detoxifying the water, and boiling the water will not rid it of carcinogens like benzene, county officials warned.
Maui water tankers are accessible in the following locations in Kula:
- Crater Road
- Copp Road
- Kula Fire Station
- Rice Park
- Kula Community Center and Keokea
The West Maui locations include:
- Puamana Street
- Kahoma Village
- Lahaina Gateway Shopping Center
According to research from the EPA , the contamination of water supplies may be “released into the water from infrastructure containing polyvinyl chloride (PVC), high density polyethylene (HDPE), or other plastic materials that degrade when exposed to heat … Contamination may occur when the smoke, hot gases, and chemicals (e.g., VOCs) from burning vegetation and structures are sucked into the water lines. This suction can occur when the water pressure drops due to broken water lines or water demand elsewhere in the system.”
Restoring the Maui water supply involves repeatedly conducting testing at various sites, flushing the water system, isolating the uncontaminated water sources and replacing damaged and compromised water pipes. A complete restoration of an area’s water system can take anywhere from months to years, depending on the scale of damage. During the 2018 wildfire in the Northern California town of Paradise, 18,000 homes were destroyed and 173 miles of water pipes were compromised. It took years for the water system to be restored, although Paradise’s population is double that of Lahaina’s and had eight times the number of structures lost.
In Lahaina, the advisory applies to all areas except the following: Kaniau Road and all areas north of Kaniau Road, including the Villages of Leialiʻi.
In Kula, the unsafe water advisory is in place for the following areas:
Lower Kimo Road, Ainakula Road, Kukia Place, Malanani Drive, Kaalele Place, Uau Place, Malapua Road, Huina Place, Kulamanu Circle, Paliuli Place, Kulalani Drive, Kulalani Circle, Kualono Place, Kekaulike Avenue, Anuenue Place, Haleakala Highway, Upper Kimo Drive, Alanuilili Place, Meakoho Place, Upu Place, Keai Dha, Nana Pono Place, Kaui Place, Kuilalani Drive, Kulalani Circle Ainakula Road, Kukia Place, Nana Pono Place, Copp Road, Holomakani Drive, Kamila Street, Kamehameiki Road, Pulehuiki Road, Kolohala Drive, Ihe Place, Kahoea Place, Kamila Place, Mauna Place, Wahelani Road, Wahelani Street, Loio Place, Hoihoi Place, Waiakoa Road, Kuulani Place, Waiakoa Place, Kekaulike Avenue, Cooke Road, Johnson Road, Alae Road, Foster Place, Kepa Road, Puakea Place, Crater Road, Hapapa Road, Napoko Place, Puanani Place, Aolewa Place, Ponimoi Place, Kula Hwy at Keokea, Thompson Road, Ulupalakua, Kanaio, Polipoli Road, Kulanani Place, Koheo Road, Monden Drive, Pilikino Place, Area of Kula Hwy between Lepelepe Place and Malamahale Place, Lepelepe Place, Malia Uli Place, Malamahale Place, Naalae Road, Section of Lower Kula Road between Naalae and Waipoli roads, Waipoli Road, Kawehi Place, Oluolu Place and Kaolu Place.