Honolulu's molasses spill is the environmental catastrophe no one saw coming

The pipeline that spilled 233,000 gallons of molasses into Honolulu Harbor was entirely unregulated


Lindsay Abrams
September 16, 2013 5:48PM (UTC)

Oversight committees don't consider molasses to be a hazardous material. But a 233,000 gallon spill of the stuff in Honolulu Harbor is quickly dissipating such notions. Response crews have little to do but wait until the plume, which is killing everything in its path, dissolves naturally. It's being called the worst marine disaster in the state's history.

“If this was oil we would have had millions of dollars of resources on it within minutes,” said the head of the Department of Health's emergency response team. But no equipment has ever been developed to deal with molasses. And because it isn't officially hazardous, the Atlantic reported, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency are not stepping in to help.

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The leak came from a pipeline used by Matson Inc., which ships hundreds of thousands of gallons of molasses to the mainland. The company is responsible for inspecting and maintaining the sugar pipelines, according to the Associated Press. The company's safety manager, however, was unclear on the pipe's inspection history. Government oversight, while stringent for oil and gas lines, does not extend to Matson.

And while the company accepted responsibility for the spill, it also had no response plan in place.

Scuba instructor Roger Smith, who took underwater footage bearing testament to the fish struggling to survive in the thickened, cola-brown water, told National Geographic last week that "the molasses sunk down to the bottom, and it kind of blanketed everything":

Every living thing is usually hiding in a hole. But every living thing came out and was gasping to live. Crabs, fish, worms, feather dusters … everything was just laying out in the bottom, just dead. The bigger fish had died, but they had gone to float to the top. The smaller fish were just on the floor.
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I've never seen anything like this. We had a large sewage spill six or eight years ago. It was a stinky mess, but nothing like this.


Lindsay Abrams

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