Officials grilled on ordnance off Waianae Coast
Waianae residents asked pointed questions of federal officials at a meeting Wednesday night, reflecting their health and safety concerns over World War II munitions dumped into the ocean off the Waianae Coast during the 1940s.
The meeting was in response to a letter sent to the Army by the Waianae Neighborhood Board, which demanded the immediate cleanup of all munitions in nearby coastal waters.
Army and other federal officials want community input before a decision is made on what action to take.
A survey released in March by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said there was no immediate danger to the public from about 2,000 pounds of munitions found at Ordnance Reef about 1 to 1.5 miles off the Waianae Coast.
Army officials said the survey, conducted May 28 to June 10 last year, was merely a series of screening tests and not a full-blown study. The survey found both small- and large-caliber Army projectiles and naval gun ammunition in water 24 to 300 feet deep. The survey also sampled fish and sediment.
Residents asked whether an earthquake or tsunami could cause the munitions to detonate.
Army explosives safety expert Barry Willmington said after the meeting that corrosion is far more likely to cause harm. Corrosion will eventually expose what is inside, he said.
Corrosive rates are being studied, and some ordnance pieces crumble when picked up, while others are as good as on the day they were made. So monitoring must continually be done, he said.
He said some of the munitions are encrusted in coral, making them difficult to remove. In response to questions, he said detonating the ordnance would not be done without consideration of the environmental effects.
Other residents asked about the effects on invertebrates and fish if chemicals leach out of the munitions.
The Army said it is addressing those questions.
Waianae Harbormaster and activist William Aila said the NOAA study assessed fish but overlooked seaweed and invertebrates, and he would like to know the cumulative and chronic impact from eating those types of seafood.
"Because no limu studies were done and no invertebrate studies were done, somebody like me and some of the aunties here who eat fish, limu and the he'e or the octopus and they eat some of the crabs, to me that's a huge data gap that needs to be followed up with."
David Reed, with the Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine, said arsenic levels in fish sampled were above Environmental Protection Agency standards. Mercury levels were below EPA levels. Only two of 48 fish sampled contained below EPA and FDA standards.
It would have been significantly better to have also sampled invertebrates and kelp but emphasized it was a screening-level survey, Reed said. "Not knowing what's in the kelp, I can't say there are no long-term health issues," he said.