Friday, September 5, 2003

Waipahu Incinerator
gets clean bill of health

There are no significant health risks for city workers at the Waipahu Incinerator or for children playing soccer at the adjacent Waipio Soccer fields, state Health Department officials said yesterday.

Even occasional trespassers onto the closed landfill would suffer no ill effects, they said.

State experts in toxicology, environmental cleanup and solid and hazardous wastes summarized their findings at a meeting last night at Waipahu High School. Several dozen people attended over the course of two hours.

Ewa Neighborhood Board Chairwoman Tesha Malama said she attended because "a lot of our kids highly utilize the soccer fields, and I wanted to see how the landfill and incinerator affects the soccer fields."

The safety of the soccer fields was called into question after the Health Department investigated illegal dumping at the city incinerator and landfill that was discovered by environmental watchdog Carroll Cox in February.


In May the state fined the city with $542,459 for violating solid- and hazardous-waste rules. In the course of removing 250 tons of crushed and buried household appliances, 6,200 junked propane tanks and assorted construction debris, the city also found that about 84,000 pounds of landfill material contained hazardous waste and had to be shipped to the mainland for disposal.

Significant levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, mercury and dioxin found on the closed landfill, and in some areas of the incinerator, required an assessment of health risks.

Dr. Barbara Brooks, state toxicologist, said the most significant levels of heavy metals are at the landfill and incinerator sites, but not the soccer fields.

"Intellectually that's good to know," said Malama. "It eases my mind in terms of 'no direct impact.'"

Brooks said that the risk analyses performed by city consultants, and reviewed by the state over the past few months, take into account long-term exposure to dust from the landfill and incinerator.

Since lead is present at the highest amounts of any of the metals, protecting against its effects will offer protection against the other metals, each of which has potential for effects ranging from skin irritation to increased cancer risk, she said.

But even using "worst-case scenario" assumptions, the elevation of lead in the blood people could get from current uses of the soccer fields, incinerator and landfill fall well within Environmental Protection Agency standards, Brooks said.

Longtime Waipahu resident Goro Arakawa said he believes the state Health Department "putting the whip" to the city will ensure that the heavy metals are cleaned up properly. He has already thought of possibilities for a waterfront park on top of the landfill, when it is capped according to EPA regulations.

After putting an impermeable cover over the Waipahu landfill, the site could be suitable for a park or more soccer fields with perhaps as little as 18 inches of topsoil, said city Environmental Services Director Frank Doyle. Clean soil is an effective barrier against the heavy metals, he said.

Doyle said the city plans to cap the landfill in 2004 and conduct monitoring until at least 2007 before a new use is considered.

Cox, who attended the meeting, called it a "dog and pony show" and said he remains unsatisfied with the state's policing of the city.


Time line of Waipahu dumping

Here are the events related to illegal dumping at the city's closed Waipahu incinerator and landfill:

>> 2001: A months-long dispute between the city and Oahu's only metals recycler over payment for processing used appliances led to a stockpiling of the "white goods." Then-city refuse disposal superintendent Peter Kealoha told city refuse workers to clean up a growing pile of used appliances by crushing and burying them next to the closed Waipahu Incinerator.

>> Feb. 24: EnviroWatch President Carroll Cox complains to the state Department of Health's Solid and Hazardous Waste Branch about what he believes to be illegal dumping at the incinerator and landfill.

>> Feb. 27: The state Department of Health's Solid and Hazardous Waste Branch begins on-site inspection and interviews.

>> March 1: City workers, under Health Department oversight, dig up and remove 34 tons of crushed household appliances.

>> March: City hires EnviroServices & Training Center to conduct testing for heavy metals and other potentially hazardous chemicals at the incinerator and landfill.

>> March 21: City contractor removes 6,200 propane tanks and takes them to Propane Man for processing and disposal.

>> March 24-April 1: City removes 214 more tons of crushed appliances, taking them to Hawaii Metals Recycling.

>> April 3: City contractor removes 39 tons of concrete and takes it to Resource Recovery.

>> April 14: City trenches around incinerator and determines no hazardous wastes are present.

>> May 13: A city consultant tells the Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection and Housing, and Health committees that there are no appreciable health risks for current uses of the incinerator, landfill and nearby soccer park.

>> May 30: State Health Department fines the city $542,459 for violating solid- and hazardous-waste rules at its Waipahu incinerator and landfill. City officials estimate that its final cleanup bill, including shipment of 84,000 pounds of hazardous waste to the mainland for proper disposal and the services of environmental consultants, will approach $500,000, bringing the city's potential total cost for the Waipahu site to more than $1 million.

>> June 10-Aug. 12: City contractor processes 80 nonpropane tanks on site; metal is taken to Hawaii Metal Recycling.

Throughout the cleanup: More than 400 tons of nonhazardous waste from the incinerator and ash landfill are reburied properly at the city's Waimanalo Gulch Landfill.

>> June 30: Kealoha resigns in lieu of disciplinary action.


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