Thursday, May 30, 2013

Radiation monitoring on the Big Island of Hawaii

6 CPM on Kohala Beach, Hawaii Island
We continuously monitor radiation levels on Hawaii Island to assure ourselves that contamination from Fukushima is not washing up on the stretches of beach we walk every day.  Our readings are consistently low on Kohala Coast beaches.  We have put our detector next to any debris that we have found washed up on the beach and never had a high reading, so far.

The readings inside our condo on the Kohala Coast, are often double the readings we get on the beach, sometimes spiking up to three time higher.  We have heard that many people are concerned about the possibility of radiation exposure from past military exercises. 

The U.S. Army conducted training exercises at the Pohakuloa Training Area (PTA) in the saddle between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa during the mid-1960's using the M101 “spotting rounds” for the Davy Crockett recoilless gun. According to an Army report, each round contained approximately one half pound of a uranium alloy (92% depleted uranium [DU] and 8% molybdenum).  Although the Army is adamant that there is no threat to human health from the DU present on Hawaii’s ranges, they are working with the University of Hawaii to assess the risk and determine if any actions are required.

Since our radiation readings are low on the beach and spike on windy days in our mauka (mountain) facing condo, we are not sure if the higher readings inside are due to dust being blown east from Mauna Kea.  When the Striker tank brigade from Oahu shows up on Hawaii Island to practice up at PTA, we can hear continuous explosions, so it is possible that dust with DU is stirred up when their missiles blow up the mountain side.

20 CPM inside condo on granite counter top

Another possibility is that the higher readings inside may be caused from a  buildup of radon gas produced from all the granite counter tops in our condo.  We notice that our highest readings are after we have had all the windows closed.  Due to the uranium content in granite, we have to make sure our detector is not near a counter top when taking a reading.

Though we are get higher readings inside, around 15 Counts Per Minute (CPM), these levels are still far below anything that is a health risk and lower than most places we have lived on the mainland.  One of the reasons we moved to Hawaii is the lower levels of radiation and even with the disturbing Fukushima emissions, our levels are still low.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

How Good is Hawaii Island’s Health Care?

One of the questions we frequently get from people thinking about moving to Hawaii Island is, “how good are medical services and health care on the island?”.  Although Hawaii is highly rated for health care, the island of Hawaii has the highest death rate in the state for all causes.

According to a 2011 AAMC report, Hawaii was ranked 8th in the nation in the number of active physicians per 100,000 population at 305.4.  In comparison, Hawaii Island’s rate of 170 physicians per 100,000 population is lower than the state of Mississippi which was ranked lowest in the nation at 176.4 physicians per 100,000.  In April 2013, the University of Hawaii’s Medical school reported that the state is having a growing shortage of physicians; Hawaii Island has only 336 MD’s of the needed 530.

Although Hawaii Island is larger than all the other islands combined, there are only 3 critical access hospitals, Hilo Medical Center, Kona  Community Hospital, and North Community Hospital in Waimea with a total of about 350 beds. USNews Health report for 2012 stated that 36,930 patients visited Hilo Medical Center during the year and  7,858 were admitted.  North Community hospital had 11,285 emergency visits and 1,893 were admitted.

Traffic fatalities on Hawaii Island are almost 3 times higher than on Oahu with 17.3 deaths per 100,000 versus 8.7 deaths per 100,000 for the state and 6.6 deaths per 100,000 on Oahu. It is common for an ambulance, called to an emergency on a beach or resort in South Kohala, to transport a patient 40 miles or more to the Kona Community hospital in Kealakelua for acute care. 

For many residents on Hawaii Island, lack of health care has resulted in chronic, untreated health problems and early death.  The hospitalization for uncontrolled diabetes per 1,000 population was twice that of Honolulu in 2009.  Suicide rates are 20.7 deaths per 100,000 versus 12.8 per 100,000 for the state.  Obesity rates are 26.3% versus 23.1% for the state.  The death rate from heart disease on Hawaii Island is about 20% higher than the rest of the state.  Hawaii Island has an average life expectancy of age 79.7, the lowest in the state and 1.2 years less than Oahu

When comparing Hawaii Island’s health care results to the rest of Hawaii it concerns us, however the island’s statistics look better when comparing them to the mainland US.  Although Hawaii Island has a higher death rate from heart disease than the rest of the islands at 93.4 deaths per 100,000 people, it is substantially lower than the overall US rate of 191.4 deaths per 100,000.  And Hawaii Island’s suicide rate has increased along with the rest of the US, but it’s rate of 20.7 per 100,000 is lower than the state of Wyoming at 31.1 per 100,000. The island’s 26.3% obesity rate is average for the US and significantly better than the 10 US states with the highest obesity rates ranging from 29% to 33.5%.  And finally, the island’s life expectancy is better than the majority of the states in the US.

Our general view of Hawaii Island’s health care situation is that it all depends on where you use as a comparison.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Hawaii Cost of Living and Solar Panel Maintenance

Easy to clean on the ground panel
In Hawaii, a solar energy system can reduce the cost of a Kilo Watt Hour from 44 cents to about  6 cents.  Although solar panels are widely advertised as a way to cut the cost of the monthly electric bill, there is rarely anything said about the need and cost of maintaining the system and keeping the solar panels clean.

Industry reports say lack of solar panel cleanings can cause a loss of up to 25% of the power efficiency.  A typical residential installation in Hawaii costs $25,000 to $30,000, so a 15% to 25% drop in power translates to a loss of $3,750 to $6,250. This is in addition to power loss on cloudy and heavy vog days.  Panels collect dust, leaves, and other debris and in Hawaii the vog can leave a thick layer of grey volcanic ash. Moisture, bird droppings, and bugs covering the panel are also a problem.  Regular cleaning of the surface is the only way to maintain the power generated to maximize the investment and keep the electric bill low.

When solar panels are installed, they are usually positioned where they can perform most efficiently and are not in the shadow of another building, trees, or other obstructions.  But, their position on a roof may make it difficult and dangerous to clean and maintain. We used a solar power system at a cabin we owned for about ten years. The solar panel was installed in a rack outside about 5 feet high which made it easy to inspect and clean.  Since it was our only source of power we could tell it needed to be cleaned when our power suddenly dimmed.  Solar energy systems installed in Hawaii that feed power directly into an electric grid provide no “reminder” to clean the panels when power output lowers.

You can clean the panels yourself which takes time and effort and if the panels are on the roof, could be dangerous. The job requires an investment in tools and cleaning supplies.  Cleaning solutions are needed that do the job without harming the roof or garden below.  The water used for rinsing cannot be “hard” or it will leave a film of minerals. Telescopic poles with a water feeding system are available for about $1000 and up depending upon the pitch and height of the roof.   Other options are  to use a professional cleaning service or installing an automated cleaning system, but they add to the yearly cost of the system.

In our case, we have been able to reduce our monthly electric bill to about $100 by using LED lights, LED TV, and LED computers, turning down the water heater, never running the AC, and even minimizing our use of power when cooking.  When calculating the benefit of reducing a monthly electric bill with a solar power system, the hidden expense of system maintenance, solar panel cleaning, additional home insurance, and replacement cost for failing or corroded parts should be added to the cost.