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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Maui to hire consultant on water contents

By Timothy Hurley
Advertiser Maui County Bureau

WAILUKU, Maui — With complaints about rashes not going away, the Maui Department of Water Supply is preparing to hire a consultant to examine the Upcountry water system in hopes of solving the problem.

The county also is expected to receive $500,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to help address a related problem.

To update Upcountry residents about the issue, the Department of Water Supply will hold a meeting at 7 p.m. today at Mayor Eddie Tam Social Hall in Makawao.

More than 120 complaints have been received about skin problems believed linked to the water system in Kula, said Jacky Takakura, department spokeswoman. "There is a problem. The complaints certainly indicate that," she said.

Maui health officials are preparing to conduct a study to try to determine whether the Upcountry water is the source of the skin irritations.

The complaints started after June 2001, when the Department of Water Supply began adding zinc orthophosphate, a compound designed to control high levels of lead caused by leaching of pipes in older homes. The state Health Department, acting under EPA guidelines, ordered Maui water authorities to do something about the high lead levels.

Responding to public pressure last year, the water department switched to a new additive, phosphoric acid, but the complaints persisted.

After the upper Kula water system failed a lead test in August, the Health Department suggested doubling the dose of phosphoric acid. Instead, the county was allowed to hire a consultant to study the problem. Takakura said the department hopes to find ways to solve the problem within six months to a year.

The county also is set to receive $500,000 from an EPA pilot program, thanks to the efforts of Councilman Dain Kane, who applied for the money through the office of U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye. The money will go for testing of residential plumbing and removing sources of lead contamination. It also will pay for educational materials and voluntary blood testing for lead in children.

Reach Timothy Hurley at thurley@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 244-4880.