U.S. Water News Online
HONOLULU -- In a matter of a few days, Oliver Johnson went
from an apparently healthy man who loved to surf to having his leg
amputated and being on life support, possibly infected with a
His friends say the 34-year-old Johnson was infected when he fell
into waters at a boat harbor in Waikiki that were contaminated by the
city's massive release of sewage into the Ala Wai Canal.
Monica Ivey, spokeswoman for The Queen's Medical Center, would not
confirm his diagnosis but said Johnson was in "very critical"
State Health Department officials said they were not investigating
the case and could not confirm news reports that Johnson had
necrotizing fasciitis, which destroys muscles, fat, and skin tissue.
Dr. Sarah Park, deputy chief of the Disease Outbreak Control
Division, noted that Johnson reportedly had wounds and multiple
bacteria were discovered, including a common water bug, but there was
no way of determining where or how he might have been infected.
"There's no way to predict," she said. "Maybe one of them was
associated with sewage, but the others may not be. There's no way to
know for sure."
Park said bacteria are everywhere, not just in water.
"Regardless if we're talking about sewage in the water or not, our
constant recommendation is, if you've got an open wound or cut,
you've got to be careful," she said.
But friends say they are convinced it's the water.
Real estate appraiser Stephany Sofos visited Johnson and said his
body was badly swollen with his kidneys and liver failing.
"What infection could he have possibly gotten outside of the Ala
Wai Canal that would do this to him so quickly?" she asked. "While
you cannot say exactly where he got it, you can make a lot of
assumptions by looking at what happened."
Sofos said Johnson, a mortgage broker, was an avid surfer, runner
and was extremely healthy.
"In three days he went from all that to having his leg removed and
being at death's door," she said. "We want people to know, if you go
into these waters where the government is saying everything is fine,
you can die."
Sofos and others said Johnson fell into the Ala Wai Harbor in the
early morning hours. He suffered cuts to his leg, hands and feet
during the fall or trying to get out of the water.
He was treated at a hospital for his wounds and was released. He
was checked into the hospital again after experiencing trouble
breathing and severe pain in his leg, Sofos said.
The city diverted nearly 50 million gallons of raw sewage into the
Ala Wai Canal after a 42-inch sewer main, stressed by heavy rains,
cracked March 24. The pipe was repaired March 29.
The canal flows out to the Ala Wai Harbor and to the Pacific
"To me, what happened is catastrophic," Sofos said. "Fifty million
gallons of raw sewage in an urban area?
"It seemed like a third-world reaction. I'm really disgusted by
this. What a destruction of our environment. And now our friend is
dying," she said.
Warning signs were posted along Waikiki beaches and neighboring
areas, but most were removed following an evaluation of water samples
taken to measure contamination.
The raw sewage spill was the largest in Honolulu in decades.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has asked the city to
provide additional information regarding the sewage release for
possible action, including fines.
"Obviously, 50 million or so estimated gallons is extraordinarily
large amount of sewage," said Alexis Strauss, director for the EPA's
water division for the Pacific Southwest region. "That's
extraordinary for Hawaii and on a national scale."
Strauss said with a spill that size, there could be consequences
for the environment, public health and the state's tourism-driven
The EPA and the city were in negotiations on long-term fixes to
the aging sewer system, which in recent weeks had about a dozen
"There's a whole series of vulnerable aspects of their
infrastructure that I think needs to be addressed," Strauss said.
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