Hawaii authorities say coastal waters off the wildfire-stricken town of Lahaina pose no significant risk to human health and it’s safe to surf and swim there.

The state Department of Health announced the decision Thursday after reviewing water sampling test results collected by groups including University of Hawaii researchers, the Surfrider Foundation and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Authorities are continuing to limit access to some coastal areas off the Maui town’s burn zone as the cleanup from the Aug. 8 wildfire continues, and recreation won’t be allowed in these places.

MAUI WILDFIRE REPORT DELAYED DUE TO SUBPOENAS OF COUNTY AGENCIES

Officials have been telling residents and visitors to limit their exposure to waters off Lahaina ever since the deadly fire destroyed the historic town. They’ve also told people to avoid eating fish from Lahaina’s waters. The department’s announcement didn’t address the safety of eating fish and other marine species.

Hawaiian beach covered in ash

An aerial view shows destroyed homes and buildings that burned to the ground around the harbor and Front Street in the historic Lahaina Town in the aftermath of wildfires in western Maui in Lahaina, Hawaii, on August 10, 2023. (PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

Lahaina’s waters are popular with surfers, swimmers and snorkelers. Before the fire, tour companies would often take snorkelers to see coral reefs off the town. Since the fire, tours have been frequenting West Maui reefs to the north or south instead.

The department said it was particularly interested in test results for metals because of their elevated concentrations in wildfire ash and the possibility that rain and runoff could carry them into the ocean.

Measurements taken by University of Hawaii included assessments of nutrients, metals and carbonate chemistry. The Surfrider Foundation tested for metals and polyaromatic hydrocarbons, which are a class of chemicals occurring naturally in coal, crude oil and gasoline.

The state analyzed harbor sediment samples for metals, dioxins, total petroleum hydrocarbons and other contaminants.

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Scientists say there has never been another instance of a large urban fire burning next to a coral reef anywhere in the world. They are using the Maui wildfire as a chance to study how chemicals and metals from burned plastics, lead paint and lithium-ion batteries might affect delicate reef ecosystems.

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