HC&S Mill Coal Smoke

Aloha Maui Moms,As parents, we do what it takes to protect our kids.  From their first breath, our child’s well-being is our number one priority.

Unfortunately, the simple act of breathing endangers the health many Maui children, including my girls.  My daughters and I have suffered from respiratory illness for several years.  At first, I thought that vog from Kilauea was responsible.  However, back in November, 2011, vog modelling experts at the University of Hawaii at Manoa told me that vog was not on Maui on the days that we were sick.  I stood on my deck looking at the haze over Maui and wondered what could be causing it.That was when I began researching the emissions of the HC&S Puunene Mill.  Since that day, I have learned a lot:

  1. HC&S Puunene Mill burns about 100,000 tons of coal a year. (1)
  2. This coal is burned by HC&S to produce power for Maui Electric Company.  Power that MECO labels “100% clean and renewable.” Power that MECO does not need. (2)
  3. That for 37.6 days from November, 2011 to January, 2012, HC&S Puunene Mill had excess emissions due to improper operation of the pollution control equipment. (3)
  4. The Hawaii Department of Health took no enforcement action for the violation of emissions requirements, even though myself and several Maui residents had complained of health impacts and illness resulting from the excess emissions, the same HC&S later self-reported. (4)
  5. HC&S Puunene Mill Boiler 3 has been in violation of applicable federal standards for forty years, since its construction in 1973.  These violations have included the failure to install monitoring systems and compliance plans that may have prevented the 37.6 days of excess emissions, and any excess emissions from 1973 to today. (5)
  6. Although required to do so, the Hawaii Dept. of Health has failed to require an updated ambient air quality analysis for the Puunene Mill under its current Initial Covered Source Permit process, even though many federal air quality standards have become stricter since the 2004 analysis due to research linking emissions to public health impacts, including hospitalizations. (6)
  7. The Initial Covered Source Permit is now almost twenty years in the making, and is several years behind federally-required deadlines.
  8. Modeling indicates that the coal pollution from HC&S Puunene Mill violates the current national ambient air quality standards.  This pollution is making Maui children, such as mine, sick.  Coal pollution can cause chest pain, coughing, eye irritation, and breathing difficulties.  It can make conditions like bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma worse or even fatal.  It can even cause asthma to develop in persons with no prior history. (7) and attachments.
  9. Coal burning at HC&S Puunene Mill may result in areas of Wailuku with double, or even triple, the allowed amounts of sulfur dioxide, especially on days when the wind is not blowing and the pollution circles the central valley.  Areas where sulfur dioxide pollution from the Puunene Mill violates the federal standards may include the campuses of: Wailuku Elementary, Puu Kukui Elementary, Iao Intermediate School, and even Poomakai Elementary School.  Exposure to excess amounts of sulfur dioxide for as little as five minutes can cause respiratory harm to everyone, and is linked to emergency room visits or hospitalization for people with asthma.

It it time for Maui to stop unnecessarily burning illness-causing coal.  Please join me and other Maui parents in asking HC&S Puunene Mill to seek alternatives to burning coal, especially when that coal is only used to produce power for Maui Electric Company that Maui does not need.  I am attaching some documents on the health impacts of coal pollution.  I am happy to meet with you, your friends, and other moms to share the referenced supporting documents and provide more information on the danger coal pollution poses to Maui children.  I am happy to speak to your school, social organization, or faith community regarding the impacts of coal pollution upon our children.

Please let me know if you are willing to join me and other parents to protect Maui’s children from coal-related illness by signing on to a letter to HC&S requesting that they seek alternatives to coal.  I am trying to form a coalition of parents to work with HC&S to end coal-burning quickly.  HC&S burns most of their coal at this time of year.  Breathing even a little coal pollution is bad for my kids, for our kids.  Time is of the essence where our children are concerned.

Let’s give Maui’s keiki the gift of clean air this holiday season.  Please let me know if you have friends or family with children at the impacted schools whom may want to learn more.

May you and your family have a safe, healthy Holiday Season,


Christine L. Andrews, J.D.
A Maui Mom for Clean Air



1.  Application Review and docket materials, Covered Source Permit 0054-01-C, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company, Puunene Sugar Mill (HI Dept. of Health, Clean Air Branch)

2.  January 30, 2013, Adequacy of Supply letter from Maui Electric Company to the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission.
3.  Semi-Annual Alternative Opacity Monitoring Report and Sulfur Dioxide Emission Reports, Puunene Sugar Mill Covered Source Permit (File #0054-01) dated February 28, 2012 and July    30, 2012.
4.  Department of Health response to requests for government records regarding enforcement action.
5.  Application Review and docket materials, Covered Source Permit 0054-01-C, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company, Puunene Sugar Mill (HI Dept. of Health, Clean Air Branch).
6   Hawaii Administrative Rules and National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

7   EPA National Ambient Air Quality Standards, EPA website; Application Review and docket materials, Covered Source Permit 0054-01-C, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company, Puunene Sugar Mill (HI Dept. of Health, Clean Air Branch)


  • Susana

    I want to thank you for compiling all this research and leading the fight for clean air on Maui. I came across this post while searching for an answer for the smell of what I describe like gun powder that has been lingering in Kihei and Sugar beach over several days of low wind recently. I’ve also noticed that the sugar mill smoke stacks have been billowing out darker and dirtier smoke than what I see normally. I am relieved that we are able to find the source of these air quality issues, but it almost seems hopeless if these violations have been occurring over decades and nothing has been done to resolve it.

    What can we do to make a difference? How can we get lawmakers and HC&S to take action? Seems like they can ignore a petition just as easily as they have been ignoring federal law.

    • Stop Cane Burning

      Yes. As the mill burns more and more coal, they appear to be violating the EPA standards. This is due to a loophole in the EPA rules that allows sugarcane operations (only sugarcane operations) to evade continuous stack monitoring and pollution equipment requirements.

      Now it is becoming clear that the Mill operation (which supplies 9% of Maui’s power) is the tail that is wagging the dog and the only reason that HC&S continues to farm sugarcane.

      They make a lot of money on the mill’s electricity operation. In fact, their old power purchase agreement had MECO idling the wind turbines (about 20 cents/kwh) to buy coal electricity from HC&S and over 30 cents/kwh. Yep, we’re being exploited. And the environment is being damaged. Not to mention our keiki lungs in Kahului and Wailuku who have to breathe the toxic coal smoke.

      Keep writing letters to the editor pointing out that the mill is burning coal without adequate controls and that HC&S is giving us lung disease from both the poorly controlled mill emissions and the sugarcane burning.

      In your letter ask the EPA to step in and require the same pollution control and monitoring as any coal plant supplying electricity to the utility.