Foam Fishing

By Cory Harden
A Hawai’i County Council member found polystyrene, popularly known as “Styrofoam,” inside a freshly caught fish. A Kona resident gathered over 4,500 signatures on her petition to ban single-use expanded polystyrene containers. Dozens of citizens testified at multiple meetings to support a County polystyrene ban, and few objected. The Kona Sheraton Resort uses over 100,000 non-polystyrene takeout containers a year, at minimal extra cost. Several hundred local
governments in the U.S. have banned polystyrene.

Despite the overwhelming evidence, four Council members (including the “foam fisher”) killed a bill that would have banned polystyrene take-out containers.

Two years ago, polystyrene measures also failed on Maui. In the State legislature, such bills have failed several times over the past three years.

Why ban polystyrene? According to the National Toxicology Program and National Research Council, the organic compound styrene can “reasonably be anticipated to be a human carcinogen” and it can leach out of polystyrene food containers.

Polystyrene supporters talk about recycling, but New York City couldn’t figure out any cost-effective way to recycle single-use expanded polystyrene containers. (2)

Polystyrene waste “…breaks into little pieces and is nearly impossible to clean up.” (3)

Polystyrene “is one of the primary components of marine debris”. (3) It can poison animals or cause them to starve with a belly full of indigestible material.

Lots of polystyrene ends up in landfills. There it “remains intact for hundreds of years and releases pollutants…” (4) Organic material in the waste stream may be rendered unusable for anaerobic digestion or composting, after polystyrene foam waste breaks into tiny pieces and mixes in. (5)

There are alternatives to polystyrene: double-walled paper, recyclable polyproplylene, and containers made from potatoes, corn, bamboo, and wood. There’s mushroom packaging– put materials like cotton and rice hulls into molds, inject them with mushroom spores, and let them grow for a week or so. Last year the city of Seattle said the number of compostable packaging products jumped from about 70 to about 700 in four years. (4)

Back in Hawai’i County, ban supporters remain undaunted. They have compiled a list of Foam Free Vendors at


1 Will polystyrene cancer concerns prompt brands to change? The Guardian, August 27, 2014,, accessed February 2016.

2 New York City Bans Expanded Polystyrene Food Containers, Chemical & Engineering News, January 12, 2015,, accessed February 2016.

3 Serving Up a Better School Plate, Natural Resources Defense Council website,, accessed February 2016

4 New York restaurants scramble for alternatives after city bans foam packaging, The Guardian, January 22, 2015,, accessed February 2016

EPA Weighs In On Maui Sewage Case

By Steve Holmes

In an amicus brief filed in the Federal Court of Appeals 9th Circuit, EPA lawyers supported the decision by Judge Susan Mollway. Maui County appealed after losing to community groups including Sierra Club.

In the brief, the EPA agreed that point source pollutants entering groundwater that is hydrologically connected to the ocean fall under the Clean Water Act. Such discharges require what is called an NPDES permit. Maui County used injection wells near the coast without this permit and polluted coastal waters.

This ruling, if upheld, will have statewide ramifications. At Kealakehe, for instance, Hawai‘i County has dumped treated sewage into a disposal pit for 20 years. They have no NPDES permit for this. USGS studies show the discharges are reaching the ocean and causing harm. Sierra Club has asked EPA to step in with enforcement given their official legal position. A meeting with a deputy regional administrator has been scheduled for September in Hawai‘i as a result.

Another longstanding violation of the Clean Water Act exists in Na‘alehu and Pahala, where gang cesspools are still being used even though 2005 marked the federal deadline for their closure. No land has been secured for a treatment plant and Hawai‘i County plans to dispose of effluent in a way that would again go into groundwater that flows to the ocean. Sierra Club wants EPA to establish a consent decree that would get Hawai‘i County to do water reuse instead.


By Cory Harden

A proposed cleanup plan for an arsenic- and lead-contaminated 4.4-acre site next to Kea`au Shopping Center drew concerns from the Sierra Club and a soil chemistry professor.

The Sierra Club, citing too many unanswered questions, urged development of a statewide plan for all land potentially contaminated by past plantation activities before a final decision is made on the Kea`au site. Not only is the proposed plan inadequate to protect health—it also passes liability from landowners to the State Department of Health (DOH), which may leave taxpayers holding the bag for decades of potential health problems, said Cory Harden of Sierra Club’s Moku Loa Group. We also recommend that statewide plans include shipping contaminated soil from the Kea`au site out of Hawai`i, she said.

Risks to children, and various pathways by which people absorb arsenic and lead, may not have been sufficiently examined, according to comments sent to DOH by Dr. N. V. Hue, Professor of Environmental Soil Chemistry at the University of Hawai`i in Honolulu. The plan does not characterize contaminated soil as hazardous waste, and does not require special disposal for plants from the most contaminated area of the site. Hue recommended re-evaluating these approaches.

Use of consultants hired by Kea`au Hospitality, not by DOH, was questioned by the Sierra Club. Dividing the site into four parcels for planning drew a comment from Hue that this approach needed more scientific support. The plan used a bio-accessibility concept, which does not consider the total amount of toxins, but only the amount people are likely to absorb. Hue said this concept needs improvement, especially for arsenic.

The Kea`au site has been in the public eye since 2003, when elevated levels of arsenic and lead were found there. In June 2004 DOH approved a plan to have the landowner, W. H. Shipman Ltd., cover the site with new soil, pavement and buildings; but the cost was higher than expected. Kea`au Hospitality, whose vice-president, Bob Saunders, is a former Shipman president, proposed buying the site to build a hotel, if an affordable cleanup plan were approved by DOH. DOH and a consultant hired by Kea`au Hospitality developed the current plan, which proposes moving the most contaminated soil to less-contaminated areas of the site, and covering it with less-contaminated soil, pavement and buildings. DOH is studying public comments and expects to announce a decision on the plan in a few weeks.

Harden asked, Do arsenic, lead and a hotel belong on the same site? She added, The decision on Kea`au will set the course for old plantation sites statewide.