Water Quality Testing In Marshall Islands Capital Shows High Levels Of Contaminants

Ocean, lagoon sites not fit for swimming, fishing; fresh water system contains human waste

By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Oct. 19, 2016) – Nine of 10 ocean and lagoon locations tested by the Marshall Islands Environmental Protection Authority in the Marshall Islands capital atoll of Majuro failed water quality standards — with one testing 40 times above the safe level for contamination by enterococci, disease-causing bacteria associated with human and animal waste.

In addition, half of the samples taken from the city water company’s fresh water piping system were contaminated with total coliform and E.coli (human waste), reported Tuvuki Ketedromo, chief of Water Quality Division, at the local EPA.

Of the ocean and lagoon sites — most adjacent to public schools or significant populations — recently tested, only one area showed water safe for swimming and fishing. To be considered safe, water must have less than 104 MPN or Most Probable Number per 100 milliliter of enterococci contamination. One tested as high as 4,100, over 40-fold over the safe limit.

The water quality testing showed “significantly high enterococci contamination in the nine sites,” said Ketedromo. “Enterococci” causes a variety of infections and is also drug resistant to many types of penicillin-based drugs as well as newer antibiotics.

Although tests show a high percentage of Majuro is unsafe for swimming or fishing, these activities take place at most of the polluted locations. EPA warns island residents through its weekly radio show on the government’s national radio station.

The Marshall Islands EPA conducts monthly water sampling. Its Majuro laboratory and staff was re-certified last week for water quality testing for a two-year period by the United States EPA.

Causes of the high pollution levels are sewage dumped untreated on an ocean side reef, pig pens located next to lagoon and ocean areas, residents using beaches as toilets or to dump rubbish.

The capital’s sewage waste is pumped untreated onto an ocean side reef and the ocean current spreads it along the reef and into the ocean that washes ashore along the 30-mile long atoll. An ongoing massive bloom of brown algae, known as “Hypnea sp.,” is believed to be the result of the continuous flow of untreated sewage onto the reef. Brown algae blankets the reef in many areas of the capital and is most concentrated on the ocean side reef around the sewage outfall. Majuro’s sewage outfall pipe, once about 200 feet long that stretched beyond the reef, has been broken and deteriorating for many years. The U.S. government is presently funding studies to determine the best way to improve the outfall situation.

In the meantime, residents and visitors in Majuro are swimming in and eating fish from ocean and lagoon water that is laced with enterococci.

 

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