In case you didn't know about this:


A worker from Pacific Environmental Corporation skims the water near the Matson shipyard in the Kapalama Basin in Honolulu, Hawaii on Wednesday Sept. 11, 2013. An estimated 233,000 gallons of molasses spilled into the water after a Matson pipeline broke.  (AP Photo/Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Cindy Ellen Russell) ** Usable by LA and DC Only **
Fish began dying en masse in the waters around Honolulu after hundreds of thousands of gallons of molasses spilled into Honolulu Harbor early this week, and there's nothing officials can do to clean it up.

Thousands of fish have died from the sugary sludge. Crabs lay dead along the harbor bottom while more fish floated listlessly, some seeming to gasp above the surface of the water contaminated by the syrupy sweetener.

The spill is one of the worst man-made disasters to hit Hawaii in recent memory, officials said, not least because no one has quite seen anything like it.

"There's nothing you can do to clean up molasses," said Jeff Hull, a spokesman for Matson Inc., the company responsible for the leak. "It's sunk to the bottom of the harbor. Unlike oil, which can be cleaned from the surface, molasses sinks."

Put another way by Janice Okubo, a spokeswoman for the Hawaii Department of Health, "It's sugar in the water. If you know a scientific way to remove it from water, let us know."

Once at the bottom, wildlife officials said, the sludge replaces oxygen-bearing seawater that bottom-dwelling fish use to breathe. - Los Angeles Times, 9/13/13

Senator Brian Schatz (D. HI) has been on top of this by connecting with the President for help:


“This has become a very serious situation,” said Senator Brian Schatz. “We need all hands on deck when it comes to protecting our marine environment, and that’s why we are working to bring federal resources into Hawai‘i as quickly as possible. I have been in direct contact with the Coast Guard, EPA, and NOAA to discuss how the federal government can aid with response and remediation efforts. Our federal partners are to be commended for recognizing the gravity of the spill, and I am grateful they have rallied so quickly to provide aid and resources to support the State. We are confident that CERCLA funding will help in swiftly dealing with this situation before more adverse effects are felt on our state’s beaches and in our harbors.”

NOAA has been providing technical and scientific expertise, along with forecasts for dispersal of the molasses-tainted waters of the harbor. According to the agency, with the weak tidal currents, the contaminated water may take a while to completely flush out of the harbor and lagoon.

NOAA officials also indicated that they are not yet certain precisely how the molasses is killing sea life. Unlike oil, molasses isn’t toxic, but University of Hawai‘i scientists have reported to NOAA that they have observed coral bleaching and sloughing tissue in areas adjacent to and downstream of the spill site. They also observed numerous dead invertebrates. Efforts to understand the exact biological process at work is ongoing, and NOAA scientists will team up with University of Hawai‘i and EPA experts.

Federal officials cautioned that there is very little precedent on how to proceed. Due to the nature of molasses, skimming and normal oxygenation techniques may not work. EPA described a possible strategy of deploying what are known as “air curtains”—long air bubbler tubes—in the most sensitive areas affected, but it is uncertain how effective this strategy will be. - Maui TV News, 9/13/13

This massive spill shows how unregulated the molasses shipping industry is:


Matson ships hundreds of thousands of gallons of molasses to the mainland mainly to be used for animal feed. Shipments usually occur once a week, but company officials have halted exports until any issues related to the spill have been resolved.

Matson is responsible for inspecting and maintaining the molasses pipes at the harbor. While the piers are owned by the state, officials say the sugar pipelines that run underneath belong to the company through a lease agreement.

But what’s unclear is how closely Matson monitors its pipelines. The company’s safety manager, Chris Lee, was on Saturday’s tour and said he wasn’t sure about the inspection history of the pipes. He noted that the state, too, is still trying to figure out details related to pipeline’s age and ownership.

Even if Matson does inspect its own molasses pipelines, there’s no government agency monitoring any company reports. The oversight just doesn’t exist the way it does for hazardous materials, such as oil and gas. The Coast Guard is in charge of the oversight of those marine pipelines.

But the lack of regulation is likely to be changing. The molasses spill in Honolulu Harbor has garnered international attention. Some have labeled it the largest marine disaster in the state’s history, comparing it to a 2006 fiasco in which the city dumped millions of gallons of raw sewage into the Ala Wai Canal and polluted Waikiki’s beaches. - Honolulu Civil Beat, 9/14/13

And Schatz is calling for action:


Schatz says it's clear lawmakers have to look at how the system run by shipping company Matson Navigation Co. is regulated by federal and state officials.

"I don't think there's any doubt that that's one of the things that we're going to have to take a look at," Schatz told The Associated Press when asked about Matson's lack of a spill plan and oversight of the underground pipes connected to Hawaii's waters.

Some 233,000 gallons of molasses spilled from a leaky pipe Sept. 9 as the sugary substance was moved from storage tanks to ships sailing to California. It happened in an industrial area west of downtown where Matson loads molasses and other goods for shipping. The company has said it doesn't normally use that section of pipe.

State and federal agencies appear to have little role in maintaining the underground pipes, state officials said last week.

"It's clear that this wasn't just a mechanical failure of a pipe but also a systems failure," Schatz said.

A U.S. Coast Guard unit that specializes in responding to hazardous spills is joining the effort to clean up and assess the damage.

Vic Angoco, senior vice president for Matson's Pacific operations, has said the company takes responsibility but had no contingency plan for the possibility of the spill, despite moving molasses from the harbor for about 30 years.

State officials have said they don't believe Matson was required to have any such plans, despite having plans for spills of oil or other hazardous chemicals. - Daily Journal, 9/16/13

Schatz is absolutely right to call for more oversight and tighter regulations.  Not only does this spill affect the water and marine life, it's also harmful to Hawaii's tourism industry:


The impact also extends to Honolulu's tourism industry.

Ray Collier, who runs a fishing and diving business, said it's not just the sight of decomposing fish that's turning people away, but the fear that large predators may come looking for them.

"They have concerns with the sharks in the area," Collier said.

"It's important to remember sharks are fish themselves. It seems to be that all fish in this area are being impacted. Sharks would be impacted just the same as everything else," Bader said.

The EPA hopes to have a team in place by Sunday, but the cleanup could take weeks. - CBS Mews, 9/14/13

If you live in Hawaii, please contact your Senator and Congressman and call for action on regulating businesses like Matison to avoid more spills:

Senator Mazie Hirono (D. HI): (202) 224-6361

Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa (D. HI-01): 202-225-2726

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (D. HI-02): 202-225-4906

And please do thank Senator Schatz for taking action and please consider donating to his 2014 campaign:

HONOLULU - OCTOBER 8:  Brian Schatz, the Democratic Party Nominee for Hawaii State Lieutenant Governor, poses for a portrait after an interview with Honolulu CivilBeat reporter-host Chad Blair at Neil Abercrombie's campaign headquarters in Honolulu, Hawaii on October 8, 2010. (Photo by Kent Nishimura for CivilBeat)

Originally posted to pdc on Mon Sep 16, 2013 at 02:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by Climate Change SOS, Climate Hawks, The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party, and DK GreenRoots.

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