Isle MECO plants amid top 10 for release of toxins

Maui Electric Co. plants at Kahului and Maalaea were again in the top 10 of Hawaii facilities releasing toxic chemicals into the environment in 2011, according to the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

MECO’s Kahului Generating Station emitted 190,021 pounds of toxic chemicals, about the same as the 190,022 pounds released in 2010. That put the plant at sixth highest on the Hawaii list of facilities in the EPA’s latest Toxics Release Inventory data.

MECO’s Maalaea Generating Station came in ninth with 94,299 pounds of toxic chemicals released. That figure was about 10,000 pounds more than the 84,199 pounds released in 2010 in the report out Wednesday.

MECO spokeswoman Kau’i Awai-Dickson attributed the increase in chemical releases at Maalaea to an increase in average sulfur content in the fuel used in some of the generating units. Sulfur content in fuel varies from year to year and even a slight increase in content can change the sulfuric acid mist emissions significantly, she explained.

“It’s important to understand though that in spite of the increase, this level is well within the allowable environmental standards set forth by local, state and federal agencies,” Awai-Dickson said Thursday.

She noted that Hawaii has limited manufacturing and industrial activity so on the local emissions list, utilities and refineries end up placed pretty high compared to other states. On the national list, emissions in Hawaii have consistently remained among the lowest in the nation.

“MECO takes its responsibility to protect the environment seriously,” Awai-Dickson said. “We are continuing to develop a broad portfolio of clean energy resources, which will lower emissions and reduce our dependence on oil. Hawaii is fortunate to have some of the cleanest air and water in the country. The American Lung Association’s State of the Air report has consistently ranked our islands among the cleanest in the nation.”

Topping the Hawaii list was Hawaiian Electric Co.’s Kahe Generating Station in Kapolei on Oahu, with 586,068 pounds of toxic chemicals released in 2011.

A total of 36 state facilities reported a total of 2.6 million pounds of toxic chemical releases during 2011, the EPA said. Hawaii’s total reported on-site and off-site releases increased 4 percent or 101,000 pounds, when compared to 2010 data.

The toxic chemical release data alone is not sufficient to determine exposure or to calculate potential risks to human health and the environment, the EPA said. The data in conjunction with other information, such as the toxicity of the chemical, the release medium, such as air, and site-specific conditions, may be used in evaluating exposures.

Data from 2011 in Hawaii show:

* Air releases increased 6 percent or 106,000 pounds since 2010.

* Water releases decreased 10 percent or 43,000 pounds since 2010.

* On-site land releases decreased 27 percent or 47,000 pounds since 2010.

* Underground injection releases increased 43 percent or 1,000 pounds since 2010.

* Total off-site transfers have increased 65 percent or 84,000 pounds since 2010.

As far as specific toxic chemicals, sulfuric acid topped the list at 1.2 million pounds, followed by nitrate compounds, 407,091 pounds; and barium compounds, 148,986 pounds.

For detailed state information and the state’s top 10 releasing facilities go to the state fact sheet at

region09/toxic/tri/ or

* Lee Imada can be reached at