Air is bad, but what about our water?
The recent air quality in Kona has been and will be an issue for as long as the eruption continues. While long-term effects are still in debate, the visual impact cannot be denied.
And yet our water quality cannot always be seen and so it goes largely unnoticed. And yet we know that water quality around West Hawaii in many areas is a critical issue. Fecal counts in Puako we know exceed Department of Health standards 10 times the legal limits. The smell in the early morning at Kailua Pier goes uninvestigated. For those of us who are ocean lovers and users and count on our waters to provide a living and sustenance, shouldn’t our waters get the same attention?
Fecal runoff has known impacts to our health and anyone who has seen the underwater damage at Puako knows that this issue has real impacts on our nearshore waters. And while Pele has and will rule on air quality, the degradation of our waters is in our hands and needs to be addressed — not with more studies to document but to resolve. Our Maui neighbors were recently fined millions by the EPA for ignoring the same issue. Lets use our limited dollars in resolving the issue and not paying fines. It’s in our hands.
Three takeaways from air quality meeting
First, it was revealed that the existing air quality monitors for Kona are installed at Energy Lab Beach and Waikaloa Beach. Great, if you live on one of those windy beaches. On a positive note, one presenter stated that MIT will be installing monitors in locations for where people actually live.
Second, it was inaccurate to proclaim that the volcanic emissions we experience daily are only harmful to people with respiratory disease. As a point in fact, the “at risk” group at the “moderate” level of toxicity also includes children 14 and under and adults 60 and over, i.e., over half of all residents. Several scientific studies have established that even short-term exposure to volcanic emissions increases the likelihood of contracting numerous serious medical conditions, even several years after exposure. According to the American Lung Association, the real air quality index for Kona is neither “acceptable” nor “moderate,” but “critical.”
Third, the advice to stay indoors with the windows closed and “avoid exertion” arrogantly assumes that nobody in Kona works outside or has any need to exert oneself outdoors. Moreover, such advice sends a chilling message to tourists and homebuyers. The county inexplicably also doesn’t want people to purchase respirators or air quality monitors, though both items are commonly available and inexpensive. Furthermore, they don’t want people to use social media to obtain first-hand information from other residents. The lack of transparency itself raises issues.
Obviously, the island is in the midst of economic and public health disasters of historic proportions. It is understandable that authorities choose to shrug off Kona air quality, in the interest of assuaging campaign contributors engaged in tourism. Nevertheless, a backlash looms on the horizon.