EPA Requires Matheson Tri-Gas Kapolei to Close Illegal Cesspools

Yesterday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced an agreement with Matheson Tri-Gas to close three cesspools at its Kapolei facility on Oahu.

Click to read the consent agreement and final order

In May 2016, EPA inspected the Matheson Tri-Gas facility, a commercial gas supply company in the Campbell Industrial Park, and found two large-capacity cesspools (LCCs) in use. EPA regulations under the Safe Drinking Water Act required closure of all existing LCCs by April 5, 2005.

Matheson, which acquired the facility in 2015, will close the two LCCs and convert to a septic system. The company will pay a civil penalty of $88,374 for violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act and spend $50,000 on a supplemental environmental project to close an on-site small-capacity cesspool. Matheson expects to complete the closure of all three cesspools and convert to a septic system by the end of 2017.

“Matheson has agreed to not only close and replace its LCCs with approved systems, but will also close an additional small-capacity cesspool at its facility,” said Alexis Strauss, EPA’s Acting Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “EPA will continue to focus on closing illegal cesspools to protect Hawaii’s drinking water and coastal water resources.”

Cesspools 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 99 percent of all domestic water in Hawaii, where cesspools are used more widely than in any other state. Since EPA banned LCCs in 2005, over 3,000 large-capacity cesspools have been closed state-wide, many through voluntary compliance. The ban does not apply to individual cesspools connected to single-family homes.

For more information and to submit comments on this specific agreement visit:

https://www.epa.gov/uic/hawaii-cesspools-administrative-orders#oahu

For more information on the large-capacity cesspool ban and definition of a large-capacity cesspool, please visit: http://www.epa.gov/uic/cesspools-hawaii

Maps of Cesspools on Hawaii Island and Hilo – 90,000 Banned Statewide By 2050

Last week the Environmental Protection Agency required the County of Hawaii to close 7 large cesspools here on the Big Island of Hawai.

Hawaii House Bill 1244 has passed and is headed to Governor Ige to sign into law.

Cesspools on the Island of Hawaii.

The bill as written would ban the currently 90,000 cesspools that are already here in Hawaii (50,000 of those on the Big Island alone) by the year 2050.

Cesspools in Hilo (I did not zoom into each TMK property… I just checked to make sure I was in the clear!)

Hawaii House Bill 1244:

According to the Hawaii Department of Health:

Cesspools are substandard systems.  They don’t treat wastewater, they merely dispose of it. Cesspools concentrate the wastewater in one location, often deep within the ground and in direct contact with groundwater, causing groundwater contamination.  This groundwater flows into drinking water wells, streams and the ocean, harming public health and the environment, including beaches and coral reefs.

 What are cesspools?

  • Cesspools are little more than holes in the ground that discharge raw, untreated human waste.
  • Cesspools can contaminate ground water, drinking water sources, streams and oceans with disease-causing pathogens, algae-causing nutrients, and other harmful substances.
  • Untreated wastewater from cesspools contains pathogens such as bacteria, protozoa and viruses that can cause gastroenteritis, Hepatitis A, conjunctivitis, leptospirosis, salmonellosis and cholera.

 How many cesspools do we have in Hawai`i?

  •  There are approximately 90,000 cesspools in the State, with nearly 50,000 located on the Big Island,  almost 14,000 on Kauai, over  12,000 on Maui, over 11,000 on Oahu and over 1,400 on Molokai.
  •  Hawai`i is the only state in the US that still allows construction of new cesspools.
  •  Approximately 800 new cesspools are approved for construction in Hawai`i each year.

How many cesspools pose a risk to our water resources and how do they impact our environment?

  •  There are 87,000 cesspools that pose a risk to our water resources.
  •  There are approximately 6,700 cesspools that are located within 200 feet of a perennial stream channel  throughout the State.  There  are approximately 31,000 cesspools that are located within the perennial  watersheds on the islands of Hawai`i, Kauai, Maui, and  Molokai.
  •  Cesspools in Hawai`i release approximately 55 million gallons of untreated sewage into the ground each  day.
  •  Cesspools in Hawai`i release as much as 23,700 pounds of nitrogen and nearly 6,000 pounds of  phosphorus into the ground each  day each day, which can stimulate undesirable algae growth, degrade  water quality, and impact coral reefs.

Click here to see if your property needs certification or is near a cesspool: Act 120 Eligibility Cesspool Finder

EPA Requiring County of Hawaii to Close 7 Large Capacity Cesspools

In accordance with Section 1423(c)(3)(B) of the Safe Drinking Water Act (“Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 300h-2(c)(3)(B), notice is hereby given of a proposed agreement, set forth in a Proposed Administrative Order on Consent (“Proposed Consent Order”), between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 9 (“EPA”) and the County of Hawai‘i. The Proposed Consent Order requires the County of Hawai’i to correct certain alleged ongoing violations of the Act, as further described below. This notice invites the public to submit comments on the Proposed Consent Order.

Click to read docket

The Proposed Consent Order requires Respondent to close seven (7) large capacity cesspools (“LCCs”) that are currently being operated in violation of the ban codified at 40 C.F.R. § 144.88 on existing LCCs that took effect on April 5, 2005. Section V of the Proposed Consent Order provides an enforceable schedule for the County of Hawai’i to come into compliance with the ban, including closure of the LCCs and proper treatment for the wastewater streams currently being sent to the LCCs.

Complainant

Kathleen H. Johnson, Director, Enforcement Division, U.S. EPA, Region 9, 75 Hawthorne Street, San Francisco, CA 94105

Respondent

Mayor Harry Kim, County of Hawai‘i, East Hawai‘i Building, 25 Aupuni Street Hilo, Hawai‘i 96720

Facilities

Pahala and Na’alehu communities of Hawai‘i

Alleged Violations

EPA alleges that, since April 5, 2005, Respondent owned and/or operated two (2) LCCs in violation of the LCC ban located in the community of Pahala. EPA further alleges that, since at least April 30, 2010, Respondent owned and/or operated five (5) additional LCCs in violation of the LCC ban located in the communities of Pahala and Naalehu. The continued operation of these LCCs is an ongoing violation of 40 C.F.R. § 144.88 and the SDWA. The seven (7) LCCs at issue are more specifically defined as follows:

  • 2 large capacity cesspools serving approximately 109 private residences in the community of Pahala, Hawai‘i;
  • 3 large capacity cesspools serving approximately 163 private residences in the community of Na’alehu, Hawai‘i; and
  • 2 large capacity cesspools serving the Pahala Elderly Apartments.

Related Content:

Neighbor Island Lawmakers Ask Governor NOT to Sign Wastewater Rule Change – New DOH Rules Would Ban New Cesspools Statewide

Nearly a dozen legislators are asking Governor David Ige not to sign off on a proposed state Department of Health rule change that would ban new cesspools statewide.  A letter, dated February 1, was signed primarily by neighbor island state representatives and senators whose constituents include many rural communities that rely on existing cesspools or the ability to install new ones.

CesspoolThe letter points out that a previous version of the rule change would have required conversion of all cesspools to septic systems, and would have cost Big Island homeowners, with over 50,000 cesspools, $1.5 billion.

“A bill to do that same thing was introduced into the Legislature in 2015 and DID NOT PASS.  In fact, a bill to ban new cesspools was NOT passed.  The will of the Legislature should thus be clear,” the letter states.  “Furthermore, this rule change greatly discriminates against the poorest of our citizens who might not be able to afford to build a home if a septic system is required.

“While the department claims that these rule changes are necessary to protect the public health and preserve our natural resources, the arguments in that regard are weak and unsubstantiated, and in fact contradictory and contrary to current legislative intent.”

The letter also notes that septic systems in Hawaii cost between $20,000 to $30,000 to install, compared to cesspools which range from $2,000-$3,000.

Neighbor island representatives and senators signing the letter include: Speaker Joseph M. Souki (Kahakuloa, Waihee, Waiehu, Puuohala, Wailuku, Waikapu), Rep. Mark Nakashima (Hamakua, North Hilo, South Hilo), Rep. Richard Creagan (Naalehu, Ocean View, Capt. Cook, Kealakekua, Kailua-Kona), Rep. Richard Onishi (Hilo Keaau, Kurtistown, Volcano), Rep. Clift Tsuji (Keaukaha, parts of Hilo, Panaewa, Waiakea), Rep. Cindy Evans (North Kona, North Kohala, South Kohala), Rep. Angus McKelvey (West Maui, Maalaea, North Kihei), Rep. Kyle Yamashita (Spreckelsville, Pukalani, Makawao, Kula, Keokea, Ulupalakua, Kahului), Rep. Lynn DeCoite (Nahiku, Paia, Kahoolawe, Lanai, Molokai, Molokini), Senator Russell Ruderman (Puna, Kau), and Senator Lorraine Inouye (Hilo, Hamakua, Kohala, Waimea, Waikoloa, Kona).