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EPA closes 16 Kauai cesspools and issues $55K in fines

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today said it has shut down 16 large-capacity cesspools on Kauai and issued $55,182 in fines to a resort management association.

The cesspools — underground holes used throughout Hawaii for the disposal of human waste — pose a hazard because raw, untreated sewage goes directly into the ground, where it can potentially contaminate oceans, streams and groundwater with disease-causing pathogens.

EPA inspectors found one cesspool at the Nukoli’i Beach Park Comfort Station on the windward side of Kauai, which took discharge from restrooms. The owner, the Kauai Beach Resort Association, has agreed to pay a $55,182 penalty and to close it by Jan. 31, 2021.

Another 15 cesspools were found at the Hale Kupuna Elderly Housing Complex in Omao, Kauai, which serviced seven multi-unit residential buildings and a recreation center. The owner, Kauai Housing Development Corporation, has agreed to close the cesspools no later than Dec. 31, 2022, and to replace them with a state-approved wastewater treatment system.

“Island water resources are vulnerable to pollution from large capacity cesspools,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator John Busterud in a news release. “EPA will continue our efforts to close the remaining large capacity cesspools on Kauai.”

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, the EPA in 2005 banned large-capacity cesspools, defined as serving multi-unit residential dwellings such as townhouse complexes and apartment buildings, or 20 or more persons per day in non-residential dwellings, such as rest areas or churches.

Since 2005, more than 3,600 in Hawaii have been closed statewide. However, hundreds more remain in operation.

Cesspools collect and discharge untreated raw sewage into the ground, according to the EPA, where disease-causing pathogens and harmful chemicals can contaminate groundwater, streams and the ocean. At the same time, groundwater provides 95% of all domestic water in Hawaii, where cesspools are used more widely than in any other state.

In 2017, the State of Hawaii passed Act 125, which requires the replacement of all cesspools by 2050. An estimated 90,000 cesspools, however, still remain in the state.

In March, the EPA shut down a dozen large-capacity cesspools on Hawaii island, and issued $144,696 in fines to two property owners.

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