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Researchers join forces to address the ongoing water contamination on Maui

Jackie Jamison is an assistant extension agent at the Kahului Extension Office in Maui County.
Courtesy of UH
Jackie Jamison is an assistant extension agent at the Kahului Extension Office in Maui County.

The University of Hawaiʻi is stepping in to bring water quality information to Maui residents affected by last month’s wildfires.

Drinking water contamination continues to be addressed as part of Maui’s fire recovery. A team from UH Mānoa and UH Maui College are working to bring greater understanding to the issue.

UH scientists and graduate students are testing the water for contaminants created by the incineration of plastics, vehicles, household chemicals and other sources. They are working independently, but in collaboration, with local water officials.

The UH Mānoa Water Resources Research Center is leading the effort, with the help of UH hydrologist Chris Shuler and Andy Whelton, a fire disaster specialist from Purdue University.

UH graduate students have led a tap water quality testing and outreach program. They launched the Maui Post-Fire Community Drinking-Water Information Hub website on Aug. 21.

Brandon Bees is a graduate student in UH Mānoa's Department of Earth Sciences.
Courtesy of UH
Brandon Bees is a graduate student in UH Mānoa's Department of Earth Sciences.

“We realized there was an information gap,” Shuler said. “We responded to that need by developing an information hub to help put all of the information in one place that is easily accessible for people. Another part of our response includes a request form, where Maui residents can ask WRRC to take samples of their drinking water to test for contaminants.”

The team has collected samples from Kula and Lāhainā that are being tested for contaminants in labs on Maui and Oʻahu.

“It has developed a lot of connections between scientists, environmental stewards and people on Maui and in Mānoa because everyone is united on a common goal towards response and recovery,” Shuler said.

“We are working at the community level with the sampling program. But WRRC has also had an impact at the county level in working with the Department of Water Supply and helping provide expertise with Whelton who has responded to fires on the mainland.”

Residents in affected areas can request their water be tested for free under the program. Though it is not part of the regulatory decision-making process, the testing program will contribute towards providing residents and the county with information.

Begun as a volunteer effort, UH is now seeking funding to support the program in the long term. They say it will remain in place as long as it is needed.

Catherine Cluett Pactol is a general assignment reporter covering Maui Nui for Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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