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Last updated November 2, 2023
There is a coordinated, interagency effort to implement environmental protection and monitoring following the August 2023 wildﬁres. Agencies and organizations at the Federal, State and Local levels are all taking steps to mitigate environmental impacts from dust, ash, debris, and other effects of the wildﬁres.
Mitigation and monitoring efforts seek to protect the people, land, shoreline, and water of all areas impacted by the devastating wildﬁres in Maui County.
The Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) is working closely with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to collect and analyze air quality monitoring data. The agencies have announced that results from preliminary air sampling and air monitoring conducted in Lahaina and Upcountry Maui are reassuring. The results do not show evidence of poor air quality or any hazardous levels of contaminants in the air at the time the samples were collected.
According to the DOH, typical air monitoring is indicative of the ambient air quality, and high winds or cleanup activities could cause dust and ash to become airborne. DOH and EPA continue to closely monitor air quality as re-entry, cleanup, and debris removal activities take place.
To mitigate re-entry and cleanup impacts on air quality, the EPA is applying Soiltac, a soil stabilizer, to the ash and debris footprints of burned buildings and vehicles. According to the EPA, the application of this stabilizer minimizes the movement of ash, debris, and contaminants through the air, land, and water, helping to protect the impacted and surrounding environment.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) will be coordinating with federal, state and local partners to conduct the government-sponsored debris removal program. During debris removal work, USACE will coordinate environmental testing and use best management practices for removing debris to mitigate impacts to air quality. All debris removal will be required to adhere to these standards.
DOH continues to urge Maui residents to wear a high-quality mask, such as an N95 mask, and other personal protective equipment when in impacted areas. Precautions should also continue to be taken in nearby areas should the air quality change due to disturbed ash from an impacted area.
According to the DOH and EPA, in addition to baseline air sampling conducted, EPA and DOH installed 13 real-time PM2.5 sensors in Lahaina and Upcountry Maui following the wildﬁres. The monitors scan for a very ﬁne, dust-like material called “Particulate Matter” or PM 2.5, which is indicative of ash and dust.
Contaminants of concern, such as metals like lead or arsenic, stick to the pieces of ash and dust that register as particulate matter. Because of this, air monitoring for PM2.5 can be used as an indicator for contaminant monitoring. If PM2.5 measurements are not above typical baseline levels (remain in the green zone), then ash and dust from the impacted areas, with their associated contaminants, are not in the air in any measurable amount that would be considered harmful.
Individuals can access air quality monitoring data in real-time using the EPA’s air monitoring website: https://ﬁre.airnow.gov/
The DOH, State of Hawaii Department of Land and NaturalResources (DLNR), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), County of Maui, the University of Hawaii (UH) and many conservation groups are working collaboratively to monitor impacts and protect watersheds, nearshore waters, and coastal ecosystems.
Many efforts serve to protect both watersheds and nearshore waters. For example, following the ﬁres, the County of Maui’s Department of Public Works (DPW) immediately deployed Best Management Practices (BMPs) within the burned area to protect drainage systems and waterways. Filter socks and straw waddles have been placed around drain inlets and catch basins throughout the town. Turbidity curtains and check dams have also been installed downstream of burned structures where there is potential to direct runoff toward the ocean. DPW continues to develop and innovate BMPs related to the burn area.
A number of groups are working together to monitor nearshore water quality and protect critical ecosystems and reefs.
DOH’s clean water branch continues to conduct coastal water surveillance and watershed-based environmental management to protect coastal and inland water resources. DOH also provides constantly updated water quality monitoring information and advisories.
In September, DLNR, in collaboration with USGS, began collecting data through sampling instruments in the waters just of the coast of West Maui. The sophisticated sampling instruments mimic what a living creature would absorb in order to understand exposure to ﬁre related impacts.
In October, UH and the Paciﬁc Whale Foundation installed water quality sensors in ocean waters around the Lahaina impact zone. UH has identiﬁed a wide range of partners and collaborators on their research and protection efforts, which include DLNR, the West Maui Watershed and Coastal Management program, the DOH, the UH Maui College water quality lab, Hui o Ka Wai Ola, the Paciﬁc Whale Foundation, and members of the Lahaina community.
According to the University of Hawaii “the UH team is working collaboratively with the community and county, state and federal experts to identify the pollutants and assess their abundance and ultimately determine if they will alter the ecosystem and affect its resilience in the future. The team was awarded a rapid response grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study the immediate impacts from the contaminants created by the ﬁre.”
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is also working to prevent ash tainted with contaminants from blowing or washing into the ocean. The application of soil stabilizer Soiltac not only protects air quality, but also mitigates runoff and water contamination. Additionally, the EPA has done extensive hazardous waste removal to ensure that high-risk hazards and contaminants are removed from the ﬁre impacted areas.
University of Hawaii News : UH researchers investigate nearshorewater quality, reef health after Maui ﬁres Departmentof Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) News and Information StateDepartment of Health, Clean Water Branch: Water Quality Advisory Information
The County of Maui’s Department of Public Works has been implementing a range of projects within burned areas to protect drainage systems and waterways. Implementing best management practices around drain inlets and catch basins serves to protect watersheds and offer environmental protection.
The County and Maui Soil & Water Conservation districts have been working with the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Paciﬁc Islands Area office to secure critically needed federal funding and technical assistance through its Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program.
The EWP program is designed to safeguard life and property from imminent hazards caused by natural disasters. The SWCDs of Olinda-Kula, West Maui and Central Maui have collectively applied to partner with NRCS as the EWP Program Sponsor.
Watershed protection and prevention of soil erosion efforts are being deployed to prevent infrastructure damage and ﬂooding that can threaten structures and lands downstream of burned areas. Some possible upcoming EWP projects include appropriate revegetation efforts to stabilize soil and prevent erosion; controls to protect the young plants from feral deer; restoration of water systems; and removal of large quantities of debris from difficult terrain.
In addition to watershed protection efforts, water systems and drinking water sources continue to undergo extensive testing from the Maui County Department of Water Supply, DOH, and EPA. To learn more about drinking water advisories and monitoring efforts, visit https://www.mauirecovers.org/utilities.
Maui Soil & Water Conservation Districts: Website and Information
The EPA and all partners involved in debris removal and management are coordinating efforts to protect land and soil quality. During debris removal, the EPA is applying Soiltac, a soil stabilizer, to the ash and debris footprints of burned buildings and vehicles. Application of the stabilizer will prevent ash (and the contaminants within) from spreading to soil and land outside of burned areas.
Ash testing has also been conducted by the DOH to monitor the possible contaminants present within ﬁre impacted areas. Based on data gathered in October 2023, DOH found high levels of arsenic in wildﬁre ash in Kula, along with elevated levels of lead and cobalt. Samples in Kula were taken from homes built between the 1930s to the 2000s. Given the similar ages of homes, DOH anticipates similar ﬁndings in Lahaina.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USCAE) is also conducting extensive environmental testing before and after debris removal activities. Soil testing will be conducted to ensure the site is safe and clear of potentially leached toxins. Six inches of soil will be scraped from wildﬁre damaged sites and then soil quality will be tested. If testing shows the presence of any toxins, USCAE will perform further remediation until they can ensure the soil is clean and safe for rebuilding and habitation. Cultural monitors will be on-site during all USCAE clean-up and remediation efforts.
Extensive debris removal efforts serve to create clean and safe impact zones. To learn more about debris removal efforts, visit resources from the EPA, USCAE and County of Maui.
DOH: Preliminary ash testing data
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: Hawaii Wildﬁre Response Information
U.S. EPA: 2023 Maui Wildﬁres
Disclaimer: The information on this page provides well–informed, broad overviews of environmental protection efforts. Information may not be an exhaustive list of all protection measures taken by local, state, and federal partners. Information contained in this page is subject to updates and changes.
The ash and debris that remain on properties affected by wildﬁres on Maui pose a threat to human health and the environment. The ash and debris can contain harmful contaminants like asbestos, lead, and arsenic. If disturbed by wind, rain, or reentry activities, humans can be exposed to harmful chemicals. Harmful chemicals can also enter the local ecosystems, endangering wildlife, and coral, and potentially entering the food chain.
EPA has reviewed proprietary data on Soiltac®, the soil stabilizer selected for use on Maui, and conﬁrms that it is non-toxic. The agency believes that applying a soil stabilizer is more protective of public health and the environment than leaving ash and debris as-is. Application of a soil stabilizer helps reduce inhalation risks and the spread of ash to water or surrounding properties. EPA will apply soil stabilizers to the ash and debris footprints of buildings in Lahaina in coordination with Maui County and local officials. EPA will supervise the application of soil stabilizers, ensuring all health and safety guidelines are followed to adequately protect residents and workers.