Practice Areas

Water Board Plans To File Contamination Lawsuit

Friday, September 24, 1999

By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Star-Bulletin

The Honolulu Board of Water Supply has retained a law firm to file suit against chemical companies it believes contaminated the ground water in Central and Leeward Oahu.

The board wants the companies to pay for the cost of installing and operating filtering equipment to make ground water clean for human consumption, said Board of Water Supply Manager Cliff Jamile. The board could seek as much as $150 million over 40 years, he said.

Jamile said the agency is treating water contamination by pesticide seepage.

In this lawsuit, the board would target manufacturers of trichloropropane, also known as TCP.

TCP is used mainly to make other chemicals and sometimes used as an industrial solvent, paint and varnish remover, and cleaning and degreasing agent.

Exposure to high levels of TCP for a short time causes eye and throat irritation, according to the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Some rats swallowing high levels of TCP died from liver and kidney damage, the agency reports on its Web page. Other rats suffered minor liver and kidney damage, blood disorders and stomach irritation, the agency reports.

The effect on humans is not known.

Jamile stressed that water consumed by its customers has been cleaned beyond detectable levels of TCP and is safe for consumption.

The state Health Department limits human exposure to no more than 0.8 parts per billion of TCP. Technology allows the water agency to detect levels as low as 0.2 ppb, Jamile said, and action is taken at between 0.2 and 0.4 ppb.

The highest level of TCP he's seen in recent years in raw, untreated water is 1.3 ppb in a Mililani well, Jamile said.

Cronin Fried Sekiya Kekina and Fairbanks has been selected to represent the city in its case. The defendants have not yet been finalized.

The impending legal action comes on the heels of a recent settlement of the Maui County Board of Water Supply's lawsuit over pesticide contamination of five wells on the Valley Isle.

The Maui board in 1996 sued the companies that supplied the pesticide dibromochloropropane, also known as DBCP, found in wells in Haiku and West Maui that were used for drinking water.

DBCP was used through 1985 as a means for agricultural plantations to kill nematodes and other worms.

Chemical companies have agreed to pay Maui County $3 million toward construction of four granular-activated carbon filtration plants and the cost of operating the plants for 40 years. Annual operating cost for each plant have been estimated at between $100,000 and $200,000.

As on Maui, Jamile said, the board will be asking the companies to pay for the cost of construction and operation of filtering plants.

The Oahu lawsuit, however, will not go after DBCP manufacturers, only TCP ones, at least initially.

"What we're after, and I think it will take a little while more, is the cause of us having the amount of treatment that we do," he said. "TCP loads up faster on the carbon (filter material) than DBCP so as a result it causes us to change out more frequently."

On Oahu, he said, the heavy presence of TCP has resulted in the need for the board to change filters on the granulated activated carbon filtration systems once a year. "Initially, our designers said it would last three years," he said.

The board has spent $20 million in each of the last two years on construction of filtration systems. The city now has five such facilities with six others scheduled to come online in the next two years.