Skip to content

Schatz: Hawai‘i to Receive Federal Aid and Funds for Molasses Spill

Honolulu, HI--Today, Governor Abercrombie and the Hawai‘i Department of Health formally requested federal assistance with response to the molasses spill. Senator Schatz has mobilized the federal response from agencies including NOAA, the EPA, and the United States Coast Guard.

The State requested assistance from the U.S. Coast Guard, which makes Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) funding available for expenses related to this spill. The Coast Guard will coordinate the response, with direct involvement from the State of Hawai‘i, the EPA, and NOAA.

“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.

“I want to thank Sen. Schatz for his initiative in coordinating this effort for federal assistance,” said Governor Abercrombie.  “We welcome the expertise and the resources of the federal government, as we do our best to cleanup this unprecedented spill and protect our ocean environment.”

The Coast Guard will also serve as a liaison between local stakeholders, state authorities, and federal agencies on response priorities and the approach to response. It can also activate the Oceania Regional Response Team allowing multiple authorities and agencies an opportunity to assist with response efforts.