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Hawai‘i says it’s safe to surf and swim in Lahaina’s coastal waters

HONOLULU — Hawai‘i authorities say coastal waters off the wildfire-stricken town of Lahaina pose no significant risk to human health and it’s safe to surf and swim in the area.

The state Department of Health announced the decision on Thursday after reviewing water sampling test results collected by groups, including University of Hawaii researchers, the Surfrider Foundation and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Authorities are continuing to limit access to some coastal areas off the Maui town’s burn zone, as the cleanup from the Aug. 8, 2023, wildfire continues. Recreation won’t be allowed in these places.

Officials have been telling residents and visitors to limit their exposure to waters off Lahaina ever since the deadly fire destroyed the historic town. They’ve also told people to avoid eating fish from Lahaina’s waters. The department’s announcement didn’t address the safety of eating fish and other marine species.

Lahaina’s waters are popular with surfers, swimmers and snorkelers. Before the fire, tour companies would often take snorkelers to see coral reefs off the town. Since the fire, tours have been frequenting West Maui reefs to the north or south instead.

The department said it was particularly interested in test results for metals because of their elevated concentrations in wildfire ash, and the possibility that rain and runoff could carry them into the ocean.

Measurements taken by University of Hawaii included assessments of nutrients, metals and carbonate chemistry. The Surfrider Foundation tested for metals and polyaromatic hydrocarbons, which are a class of chemicals occurring naturally in coal, crude oil and gasoline.

The state analyzed harbor sediment samples for metals, dioxins, total petroleum hydrocarbons and other contaminants.

Scientists say there has never been another instance of a large urban fire burning next to a coral reef anywhere in the world. They are using the Maui wildfire as a chance to study how chemicals and metals from burned plastics, lead paint and lithium-ion batteries might affect delicate reef ecosystems.
Source: The Garden Island

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