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EPA fines Honolulu, Hawaii counties $268k over large-capacity cesspools

                                Diagram of a cesspool


    Diagram of a cesspool

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said today it has fined the state and two counties in Hawaii about $268,000 and required the closure of three pollution-causing cesspools, which are in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The EPA has ordered the closure of two large-capacity cesspools at Helemano Plantation on Oahu, which serves a restaurant, gift shop and farm.

Helemano Plantation is owned by the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and leased by the City and County of Honolulu. EPA said the cesspools must close by the end of the year. Honolulu has agreed to pay a $135,000 penalty.

In addition, the EPA has ordered the closure of a cesspool at Kainaliu Comfort Station in Kealakekua on Hawaii island. The comfort station has a public toilet in its parking lot which discharges to a large-capacity cesspool. Hawaii County has agreed to pay a $133,000 fine and close the cesspool by the end of this year.

Cesspools — basically underground holes used for the disposal of human waste — collect and discharge untreated raw sewage into the ground, where disease-causing pathogens and harmful chemicals can contaminate groundwater, streams and the ocean.

Groundwater provides 95% of all local water supply in Hawaii, according to the EPA, where cesspools are used more widely than in any other state.

Large-capacity cesspools, defined by the EPA as serving multiple 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, were banned in 2005 under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Since the 2005 ban, more than 3,600 large-capacity cesspools in Hawaii have been closed, the EPA said. However, many hundreds remain in operation.

In 2017, the state passed Act 125, which requires all cesspools to be replaced by 2050. A state income tax credit is available for upgrading qualified cesspools to a septic system or aerobic treatment unit, or connecting them to a sewer. But that tax credit ends on Dec. 31.

Earlier this year, the EPA also shut down a dozen large-capacity cesspools on Hawaii island and issued fines of nearly $145,000 to two property owners.

“Large-capacity cesspools can contaminate our groundwater, streams and ocean resources,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator John Busterud in a news release. “EPA will continue efforts to identify and close the remaining LCCs in Hawaii including those owned by state and local government agencies.”

“The City has sub-leased the State’s property at Helemano Plantation since the 1970s to Opportunities and Resources, Inc. to support housing and employment programs for persons with developmental disabilities,” the City and County of Honolulu said. “Once the City was made aware that there were large capacity cesspools still open, it worked closely with the non-profit provider to remedy, and the cesspools were closed by March 31, 2020.”

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