Much of the following information was taken from the website of Hawaii Department of Health (DOH), Wastewater Branch, Cesspools in Hawaii.
What are Cesspools?
- Cesspools are little more than holes in the ground that discharge raw, untreated human waste.
- Cesspools can contaminate ground water, drinking water sources, streams and oceans with disease-causing pathogens, algae-causing nutrients, and other harmful substances.
- Untreated wastewater from cesspools contains pathogens such as bacteria, protozoa and viruses that can cause gastroenteritis, Hepatitis A, conjunctivitis, leptospirosis, salmonellosis and cholera.
How Big a Problem are Cesspools in Hawai'i and in Other States?
- There are approximately 90,000 cesspools in the State, with nearly 50,000 located on the Big Island, almost 14,000 on Kauai, over 12,000 on Maui, over 11,000 on Oahu and over 1,400 on Molokai. Watch this video to learn more about the water quality impacts of cesspools in Hawaii.
- Until legislation banning new cesspools was finally passed in 2016, Hawai`i was the only state in the US that still allowed construction of new cesspools
- Cesspools in Hawai`i release approximately 55 million gallons of untreated sewage into the ground each day.
- Other states, including Iowa, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, have cesspools but require cesspools to be upgraded to septic systems when property ownership changes.
To begin to address the pollution problems caused by cesspools, Hawaii DOH has initiated the process to accept written comments and hold a public hearing on proposed changes to Hawaii Administrative Rules (HAR), Chapter 11-62, Wastewater Systems.
Proposed changes include prohibiting the installation of new cesspools and requiring connections or upgrades of existing cesspools to septic systems within 180 days after sale of property. A list of all proposed changes may be found in DOH's Rationale document.
The Surfrider Foundation chapters in Hawaii support DOH's proposed rule changes. Read a letter of support written by Stuart Coleman, Hawaiian Islands Manager for Surfrider Foundation.
For several years, Surfrider Foundation's Hawaii Chapters have been working with the Dept. of Health to support changes to Hawaii's Administrative Rules (HAR) to ban the installation of cesspools. This advocacy paid off on March 11, 2016 when Gov. Ige signed into law the new rule changes to ban new cesspool installations. “Cesspools provide no treatment, and inject about 55 million gallons of raw sewage into Hawaii’s groundwater every day, potentially spreading diseases and harming the quality of drinking water supplies and recreational waters,” Gov. Ige said at the signing announcement. The new HAR changes would also put into place the $10,000 tax credits (see above) that Surfrider's Hawaii Chapters helped pass in 2015 for homeowners to upgrade their cesspools to better septic systems in certain areas near water sources.
Additional Information Sources
Cesspools in Hawaii (USEPA)
Large Capacity Cesspools (USEPA)