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News Releases from Region 09

EPA, Hawai‘i Department of Human Services Reach Agreement to Identify and Close Pollution-Causing Large Cesspools Throughout the State

Dept. of Human Services Will Conduct Self-Audit to Further Protect Water Resources

06/01/2020
Contact Information: 
Alejandro Diaz (diaz.alejandro@epa.gov)
808-541-2711

HONOLULU – Under a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today, the Hawai‘i Department of Human Services (HDHS) has agreed to close all pollution-causing large-capacity cesspools (LCCs) that it owns and operates. EPA banned LCCs in 2005, under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

“State agencies have a responsibility to ensure that Hawai’i’s communities and critical drinking water resources are protected from their pollution causing large capacity cesspools,” said EPA Pacific Southwest Regional Administrator John Busterud. “We want other state and local agencies to follow HDHS proactive approach to identify and close all of their large cesspools.”

Under the agreement, HDHS will close two illegal LCCs and conduct a compliance audit to review and close any remaining LCCs owned or leased by HDHS by April 2021. With this audit HDHS will confirm that all owned or leased properties are connected to a sanitary sewer system or operate a compliant septic system. HDHS will avoid penalties for any other LCCs found during the audit. This effort furthers EPA’s goal of closing LCCs in Hawai’i while incentivizing voluntary disclosure of additional LCCs on HDHS properties.

“The Department of Human Services is committed to being good stewards and doing our part to ensure clean water resources statewide,” said Office of Youth Services Executive Director Merton Chinen.

EPA discovered the two illegal large cesspools, which HDHS will shut down during a July 2018 inspection. The cesspools are connected to buildings at the Hawai‘i Youth Correctional Facility (HYCF) in Kailua, Oahu. The HYCF property is operated by the Office of Youth Services, a sub-agency of HDHS. As part of the agreement, HDHS will connect the HYCF buildings to the municipal sewer system or a compliant septic system. HDHS will also pay a $128,000 penalty.

EPA is authorized to issue compliance orders and/or assess penalties to violators of the Safe Drinking Water Act’s LCC regulations. However, to encourage regulated entities to voluntarily discover, promptly disclose, and expeditiously close large-capacity cesspools, EPA is willing to forego enforcement actions and penalties.

Since EPA’s 2005 LCC ban, more than 3,400 large capacity cesspools have been closed statewide; however, it is estimated that there remain approximately 90,000 active cesspools in Hawai‘i. Cesspools are used more widely in Hawai’i than in any other state. In 2017, the State of Hawaii passed Act 125, which requires the replacement of all cesspools, including smaller capacity cesspools that are not regulated by EPA, by 2050.

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 95% of all domestic water in Hawai‘i.

Information on how to self-disclose potential large-capacity cesspool violations is available at: https://www.epa.gov/compliance/epas-edisclosure.

For more information on these agreements visit: https://www.epa.gov/uic/hawaii-cesspool-administrative-orders.

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