Scientists to test polluted water in Hawaii

Scientists plan to test Honolulu's sewage-ridden waters Monday for a dangerous bacteria that is being blamed for the death of a 34-year-old man last week.

The University of Hawaii scientists previously did similar work in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, where they found that the vibrio vulnificus bacteria was more virulent and in higher numbers near the mouth of canals, where runoff and sewage were concentrated.

The bacteria may have contributed to a flesh-eating infection that led to the Thursday death of Oliver Johnson, who fell into a boat harbor in Waikiki that was affected by the city's massive release of sewage into the Ala Wai Canal.

The water samples that will be taken Monday will help determine how prevalent and virulent the bacteria are along the Ala Wai Canal and in nearby open waters, The Honolulu Star-Bulletin reported.

Nearly 50 million gallons (189 million liters) of raw sewage were pumped into the canal after a disposal line broke March 24 amid heavy rains.

Mayor Mufi Hannemann asked the public on Saturday not "to make a rash judgment" about what caused Johnson's death.

"The verdict from the forensic and scientific experts is still out," he said. "That being the case, we want to wait until all the facts are in before we start assigning blame. Many, many things ... still need to come out."

Johnson, a Honolulu mortgage broker died of "multi-system organ failure" due to septic shock and Vibrio vulnificus bacterial infection, according to the coroner's office which performed an autopsy. Johnson's injured foot was infected with the bacteria, the office said. He also suffered from liver disease, which was a contributing factor.

But an attorney for Johnson's family said he will have to be convinced that the high levels of sewage weren't the primary cause of the infection.

"The family would like to know what happened, how it happened and if there's anybody who is responsible for this," said attorney Jim Leavitt. "Any family would need to understand how their healthy, active son and brother could suddenly die like this,» reports the AP.

I.L.