Health Dept. defends lack of signs at Waimea Bay

The Hawaii Dept. of Health is warning the public to stay out of the water at Waimea Bay. But KHON2 found out that spreading that message is not as clear, leaving some beachgoers to tread into potentially dangerous territory.

Late Wednesday, the health department sent a brown water advisory to KHON2, saying that storm water run-off had entered Waimea Bay, possibly contaminating the water with animal waste and chemicals. But no signs were posted at the beach telling people to stay out of the water or inform them of the risk catching a disease. So KHON2 pressed the health department for answers. Why weren’t there any signs?

On Wednesday, KHON2 asked two swimmers, Deja Foster and Alexis Jordan, whether they would enter the water after reading the advisory. “No, we’re going to walk all the way around,” Jordan said. They learned about the brown water and the possibility of infection only after being alerted by KHON2.

On Thursday, KHON2 went to the Dept. of Health to find out why it only relies on the media and its website to alert people to stay out of the water at Waimea Bay. The department knows of at least two cases of leptospirosis that may have been linked to swimming when there was brown water in Waimea Bay.

KHON2 asked in the interim, while the department conducts a comprehensive review on when and where to post warning signs, if it would consider putting up a sign at Waimea Bay, just this one instance. “No, we’re not going to do that,” said Gary Gill, deputy director of environmental health. “Is that the answer you’re looking for? I don’t have a sign to post at Waimea Bay or any other place where brown water is hitting the ocean.”

The department also relies on people knowing to stay out based on past warnings, but this was the first time for Foster and Jordan, and probably for many visitors as well.

Gill says the department does not have the resources to post signs in the interest of public safety, so KHON2 went to the State Capitol and asked lawmakers what they could do to help.

State Sen. Josh Green, who is a medical doctor and chair of the Senate Health Committee, reached out to Dr. Linda Rosen, director of the Dept. of Health. “I told her that I was concerned about a report familiar to me about people possibly contracting leptospirosis at Waimea,” Green said. “That concerns me, so I told her to take it up.”

Green went on to say that “she is going to talk to the city folks, the county folks, to see what’s up and possibly getting a sign up.” Green said he believes Dr. Rosen already has the money to post warning signs.

The city told KHON2 that it has yet to receive a formal directive from the health department.

KHON2 will follow up when the signs are finally posted at Waimea Bay.

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