Honolulu Settling Water Lawsuit

January 16, 2002

By Scott Ishikawa, ADVERTISER CENTRAL OAHU WRITER

Firms, growers to pay $20 million

The Honolulu Board of Water Supply will receive nearly $20 million in a settlement with six petrochemical companies and pineapple growers over contamination of the water supply in Central and Leeward Oahu, according to a joint statement released today by all parties involved in the suit.

Board of Water Supply officials sued in 1999, saying the water supply had been tainted by toxic chemicals - dibromochloropropane (DBCP), ethylene dibromide (EDB), and trichloropropane (TCP) - made by defendants Shell Oil Co., Dow Chemical Co., Great Lakes Chemical Co., and used on pineapple crops by Del Monte, Dole and Libby McNeil Libby Inc.

Under the terms of the settlement, the suit's defendants, without any admission of liability, will make a one-time immediate payment of $19.95 million toward the cost of filtering drinking water wells with granulated activated carbon (GAC) to meet federal and state water quality standards. Parties involved in the suit declined to say how much each of the defendants would pay.

Attorney Gerald Sekiya, whose firm Cronin Fried, Sekiya Kekina & Fairbanks represented the city during the lawsuit, said all parties agreed to a financial settlement in October, and finalized the monetary amount in December. Documents were filed in federal court on Monday.

BWS Manager Clifford Jamile said that water consumed by its customers has since been cleaned beyond detectable levels of the contaminants and is safe for consumption. TCP is known to cause liver damage, central nervous system depression and other effects in rats. Its effect on humans is not known.

"GAC has been long recognized as highly effective in eliminating these and other organic chemicals from water," said Board of Water Supply Manager Clifford Jamile.

Water officials in 1999 said the Kunia well supplying water to Village Park was drilled in 1979, and that contamination of DBCP, EDB and TCP in the water was not discovered until 1982. The Board of Water Supply installed granular activated carbon filters in 1983 to bring the contamination levels below maximum levels allowed by the state.

The Maui County Board of Water Supply in 1999 won a settlement of about $3 million in a similar lawsuit.

The settlement comes while a separate personal injury suit has been filed against many of the same chemical and agriculture companies on behalf of 350 Oahu residents seeking damages for illnesses allegedly caused by contaminated water supplies. That suit claims many of its clients suffer from cancer and lupus because of chemicals in the water, air and soil in the regions. Several individuals represented in the personal injury case have died, allegedly from contamination, the suit stated.

Some Village Park residents have speculated they may have higher incidences of birth defects, learning disabilities and other health problems than most communities.