Group calls Natatorium health rules inadequate

Honolulu Star-Bulletin
By Gordon Y.K. Pang

Advisory committee members say their views were ignored

Local science and health experts say the state Health Department’s draft rules for saltwater pools such as the controversial Waikiki War Memorial Natatorium are inadequate.
Three members of an advisory panel convened by the Health Department to come up with the rules, including two University of Hawaii professors, joined a physician who specializes in infectious diseases yesterday at a news conference to say their recommendations were ignored when the rules were drafted.

Mayor Jeremy Harris has held off construction on the pool portion of the Natatorium pending release of the rules.

The rules still need to be approved by Gov. Ben Cayetano. The experts who spoke to reporters yesterday said the proposal needs to be sent back to staff for further work.

Health Director Bruce Anderson said the comments made on the rules have yet to be considered and incorporated.

Roger Lukas, a UH oceanographer on the advisory panel, said the proposed rules require that a saltwater pool be recirculated at least three times a day but does not provide a means for determining whether that occurs.

The rules also allow for a contaminated pool to operate for up to five weeks without needing to close because of the lax testing requirements, Lukas said.

“The enforcement processes are very poor in terms of protecting public health,” he said.

Marian Melish, a pediatrician, head of infection control at Kapiolani Medical Center and also a John A. Burns School of Medicine professor, said Hawaii beach waters already are prone to high concentrations of staphylococcus, a type of bacteria that causes boils and abscesses.

“The Natatorium, which will have much less water circulation than the quietest and calmest of our beaches will be a place where staphylococci will grow,” said Melish, who was not on the panel. She described staph as “the biggest bacterial problem in the state” which “cause infection from the trivial to the fatal.”

Hawaiians and others of Polynesian ancestry are up to three times more likely to develop infections than others, Melish said.

Anderson, in response, said staph monitoring is not a requirement in the rules because no standards exist for acceptable levels of the bacteria. “It would be impossible to require anyone to monitor for staph without specifying what methods to use,” he said. It would take the state perhaps a decade to come up with data to establish such standards, he said.

Instead, the department came up with the three-flushes-a-day requirement as well as a provision mandating testing of enterococcus, a class of bacteria that indicates the presence of other disease organisms, Anderson said.

Lukas and Jim Williams, head of the Hawaii Swimming Pool Association, said they doubt the city will be able to prove that the pool’s water recirculates three times a day.

Williams said only a mechanized pump circulation system would be able to accomplish that task.

Donna Ching, a spokeswoman for the Friends of the Natatorium, said the rules are “arbitrary and baseless,” and unnecessary. “The best measure of water cleanliness is to take water out of a pool and test it,” Ching said.