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Friday, April 12, 2002



Hazardous waste
spills aboard barge

Johnston Atoll waste leaks
on a boat at Honolulu Harbor


By Treena Shapiro
tshapiro@starbulletin.com

A hazardous-materials team decontaminated about 20 workers who were exposed to a chemical spill yesterday morning aboard a Matson Shipping Co. barge in Honolulu Harbor, a Fire Department spokesman said.

An additional 30 Matson employees who came into contact with the workers in a break room had their shoes removed and bagged as possible contaminants, said Honolulu Fire Department Capt. Richard Soo.

No workers appeared to be ill from the exposure, Soo said.

The Fire Department was called after stevedores noticed a suspicious-looking liquid on the deck near a tank used to carry hazardous cargo.

Matson spokesman Jeff Hull said that the liquid was discovered during a routine inspection and had not leaked into the harbor.

Soo said the tank held a mix of waste products from Johnston Atoll, including arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead and mercury.

A valve from the tank had developed a slow leak and spilled between four ounces to one pint of the liquid, said Coast Guard Chief Tyler Johnson.

"It's pretty low to moderate as far as the danger level," he said, adding that the chemicals could not be inhaled or passed through the skin.

An Army spokesman said the spill was treated with extra precaution because Johnston Atoll is the site of the former chemical war agent storage and disposal operations. The tank was bound for the mainland for disposal, he said.

The Department of Health regularly monitors these shipments from Johnston Atoll, which come about once a month, said spokeswoman Janice Okubo. Matson provides the Health Department with information every time hazardous materials are shipped.

Grace Simmons, supervisor for the hazardous-waste section, said the department has been monitoring the shipments since the Environmental Protection Agency authorized the permit in the early 1990s. This is the first time she has heard of a spill.

The department said that any shipment carrying heavy metals is a cause for concern, but as long as they are packaged according to Department of Transportation and EPA standards, they should be intact, she said.

The shipments normally do not stay in Hawaii longer than a few days before they are routed to Los Angeles or San Jose, Calif., she said.



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