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Swimming, surfing in waters near Hawaii wildfire site is safe, officials say

Hawaii officials say the coastal waters off the wildfire-stricken town of Lahaina do not pose a significant risk to human health and are safe for surfing and swimming there.

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

As cleanup efforts from the Aug. 8 wildfire continue, authorities continue to restrict access to some coastal areas away from the Maui town fire zone, and recreation will not be allowed in these locations.

Maui wildfire report delayed due to request from county officials

Officials are urging residents and visitors to limit exposure to the waters off Lahaina after a deadly fire destroyed the historic town. They also told people not to eat fish caught in Lahaina waters. The ministry’s announcement did not address the safety of eating fish or other marine life.

Aerial view of destroyed homes and buildings burned to the ground in the historic Lahaina Town harbor and Front Street area due to wildfires in west Maui, Lahaina, Hawaii, August 10, 2023. photograph. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

Lahaina’s waters are popular with surfers, swimmers, and snorkelers. Before the fires, tour companies often took snorkelers to see the coral reefs off the coast of town. Since the fires, tours have instead begun frequenting reefs in north or south West Maui.

The ministry said it was particularly interested in test results for metals because wildfire ash contains high concentrations of metals and can be washed into the ocean by rain or runoff.

Measurements conducted by the University of Hawaii included chemical evaluation of nutrients, metals, and carbonates. The Surfrider Foundation tested for metals and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a class of chemicals naturally found in coal, crude oil, and gasoline.

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

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Scientists say that nowhere else in the world has a large urban fire occurred next to a coral reef. They are using the Maui wildfires as an opportunity to study how chemicals and metals from burned plastic, lead paint, and lithium-ion batteries affect delicate coral reef ecosystems. There is.

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