Environmental & Hazard Concerns
Preliminary, unvalidated data from wildfire ash samples collected in Kula shows very high levels of arsenic. The testing also indicated elevated levels of lead and cobalt. The ash samples were collected on September 21 from eight burned homes in Kula, which had been constructed from the 1930s to the 2000s. Because homes in the impacted area of Lāhainā were constructed during the same time period, DOH expects that the ash in Lāhainā will have a similar contaminant profile. With EPA phase 1 hazard removal nearing completion, DOH will conduct testing of Lāhainā ash.
Real-time air monitors continue to be installed in Lāhainā and Kula. Individuals can monitor real-time air quality at fire.airnow.gov or by downloading the AirNow mobile app. Additional apps such as Local Haze, IQAir, and Paku use the same data sources and allow for real-time alerts.
Results from validated air sampling conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Lāhainā and Kula in late August do not show evidence of poor air quality or any hazardous levels of contaminants in the air at the time the samples were collected. Click here to learn more.
Hazard Advisory for Individuals Returning to Impacted Areas
The impacted area and its surroundings are hazardous with unstable structures, sharp metal objects and ash with potentially toxic substances. Children and pregnant people are at higher risk from the debris hazards and should not enter the impacted area or help with clean-up efforts. Enter at your own risk.
Adults should use protective gear in impacted areas, including face masks, goggles and gloves, long-sleeves, pants, socks and shoes (including disposable shoe coverings) to avoid skin contact with ash. Cloth masks will not protect you from ash. Instead, DOH recommends wearing a tight-fitting respirators or masks – look for words NIOSH or N95 printed on the mask. Remember, no mask is effective unless it fits and is worn properly.
Reduce Exposure to Ash & Hazardous Materials
Debris and ash may include lead, asbestos, arsenic, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), dioxins or other hazardous substances. Dust, dirt, and soot can become airborne if disturbed, causing a risk of inhalation and exposure to these chemicals.
Avoid washing ash into storm drains. Do not use vacuums or leaf blowers that will push more ash and dust into the air. Please DO NOT EAT while in the impacted area, but remember to take breaks often and drink plenty of water. Keep your water bottles away from the ash and dust to avoid any ingestion.
Do not dispose of ash or debris at landfills, in dumpsters, or at transfer stations. Removal of hazardous material from the impacted area will be coordinated by authorities.
Be Aware of Trees, Power Lines, or Other Hazards
Trees may be identified as hazards due to the fire. Even if power has not been restored to your neighborhood, downed power lines should be avoided. Unstable buildings and structures could collapse and cause injury. Nails and other pieces of sharp metal can cause injury – even through shoes. If you identify that an area is unsafe, leave and report the hazard to authorities.
Unsafe Drinking Water Advisory for Lāhainā
Tap water continues to be unsafe for drinking in parts of Lāhainā. Effective October 31, 2023, the Maui Department of Water Supply announces that the Unsafe Water Advisory was lifted for Upper Kula.
Parts of Lāhainā remain under the UWA. To determine if your address is in a specific zone, please refer to the interactive map at the following link: Zone Map. Bottled water should be used for all drinking, brushing teeth, ice making, and food preparation until further notice. Residents are unable to treat the water in any way to make it safe.
DOH and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continue to provide technical support to the Maui Department of Water Supply, which issued Unsafe Water Advisory.
Air Quality Monitoring/Smoke and Dust Advisory
Results from preliminary air sampling and air monitoring conducted in Lāhainā and Upcountry Maui are reassuring. The results do not show evidence of poor air quality or any hazardous levels of contaminants in the air at the time the samples were collected.
DOH has closely collaborated with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to analyze preliminary, unvalidated data from baseline air monitoring conducted by the EPA in Lāhainā and Upcountry Maui to prepare this summary.
In addition to the baseline air sampling conducted, EPA and DOH installed 13 real-time PM2.5 sensors in Lāhainā and Upcountry Maui following the wildfires. These monitors scan for a very fine, dust-like material called “Particulate Matter” or PM 2.5, which is indicative of ash and dust.
Contaminants of concern, such as metals like lead or arsenic, stick to the pieces of ash and dust that register as particulate matter. Because of this, air monitoring for PM2.5 can be used as an indicator for contaminant monitoring. If PM2.5 measurements are not above typical baseline levels (remain in the green zone), then ash and dust from the impacted areas, with their associated contaminants, are not in the air in any measurable amount that would be considered harmful.
Air quality data can be viewed at the AirNow Fire and Smoke Map at https://fire.airnow.gov/.
As contaminants are present in dust and ash, proper precautions should be taken when in the impacted area to avoid exposure. This is also important in instances where the ash and dust may be disturbed such as in high winds, when sifting through ash, during clean-up or when heavy machinery is used to remove debris.
To view the preliminary, unvalidated data, click on the links below:
It is important to note that the data available have not yet been validated. This means the currently available data is preliminary and hasn’t been double checked by the lab or quality tested by an independent third party. The final results may be different, and data is expected to be added. That validation process is ongoing, and the validated results will be shared as soon as they are available. The validation process may take several weeks.
DOH continues to advise residents and visitors in these areas – especially those who suffer from pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma, bronchitis or emphysema – to take precautionary measures.
The public is advised to be vigilant and adhere to the following safety tips:
- Avoid outdoor activities to reduce exposure and minimize health risks. This is particularly important for children, seniors and individuals with pre-existing respiratory conditions and chronic lung and heart disease.
- Stay indoors and close all windows and doors. If an air conditioner is used, set it to the recirculate option.
- If you need to leave the affected area, turn on your vehicle’s air conditioner and set it to the recirculate option.
- Always keep medications on hand.
- Daily prescribed medications for respiratory illnesses should be taken on schedule.
- Contact a doctor as soon as possible if you experience any health problems.
- Do not smoke and avoid second-hand smoke.
- Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration.
- Have family emergency plans prepared and ready.
- Heed warnings by county and state emergency management officials.
Assistance Available from the Hawaiʻi Poison Center
Do you have questions about environmental exposures related to the Maui fires? The Hawaiʻi Poison Center is available to answer your questions.
The Hawaii Poison Center is available 24/7 and calls are confidential and free. Call the Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222.