Thursday, April 26, 2001

Sophie Mataafa and Kelly Panis stood yesterday in front
of the dust shield that is being erected to protect nearby
residents. The project in the background has been
stirring up dust and the discontent of low-income
neighbors who attribute their sicknesses to the dust.

Lahaina residents
blame ills on dust

They say diesel-laced dust is
causing severe illnesses for them

By Gary T. Kubota
Maui correspondent

LAHAINA >> Residents along two streets in Lahaina are complaining about dust blowing into their homes and increasing health problems from the nearby Pioneer Mill Co. property.

Sophie Mataafa says her four children have been treated for asthma since mounds of dirt containing diesel oil were excavated and moved near her home at David Malo Circle, six months ago.

Some residents at the state low-income housing project say they wash their bedding daily because of the dust and have had repeated sinus infections, sores that do not heal without antibiotics, and other respiratory problems.

"This is an environmental nightmare," Mataafa said. "We are living in low-income housing, and we have no alternate place to go."

The company, which shut down sugar cane operations last year, has removed diesel fuel tanks and excavated near David Malo Circle and within its base yard at Kahua Street adjacent to single-family homes.

Kahua Street resident Thomas Nishida said that for months the dust settled so thick on his driveway, he left footprints as he walked on it.

"The throat get all itchy. Get hard time breathing," said Nishida, a mill retiree.

James Boersema, spokesman for Pioneer's parent company Amfac Hawaii Inc., said no hazardous waste affiliated with diesel fuel has been found in soil tests.

"There should be nobody sick from this," he said.

Boersema said the excavation found no leaks in the tanks, but some diesel fuel is in the excavated soil. He said diesel fuel is not classified as a hazardous waste, and the excavated soil has been left above ground to allow the sun to burn off the fuel.

Richard Palmer, a state environmental health specialist, said the company was not in violation of any permits for moving the soil as long as it covered the mounds of dirt.

Palmer said according to environmental regulations, the company can transport dirt containing petroleum from one site to the next within its property.

Palmer said he asked Amfac officials to complete erecting dust barriers along the street before removing the mounds of soil.

Living about 40 feet from an unpaved cane haul road next to Mill Street, David Malo Circle residents have had dust problems for years.

Some say they and their children were never as sick as in the last six months.

Physicians have confirmed the respiratory problems experienced by Mataafa and her children have been getting worse.

"Over the past six months, the children have exhibited notable increase in frequency and severity of episodes of wheezing and bronchitis, in excess of similar episodes observed in previous years," said Dr. Lise M. Stevens in a letter last Thursday.

Stevens, a pediatrician who has cared for the Mataafa children since birth, recommended the Mataafas seek housing that would not be "plagued by the current levels of dust, in an effort to decrease the wheezing in their children."

Mataafa said she complained to Amfac in February, and plastic tarpaulins were put over some but not all of the dirt mounds. But she said on windy days, some tarpaulins blew off the mounds, and the mounds were exposed for days before being covered again.

Most recently, the company has hired a contractor to build an 18-foot-high shield to block the dust along Mill and Kahua streets.

Mataafa said the dust shield is "like putting a Band-Aid on an infected sore. They just don't get it."

"This house is a sick house. I want them to give us a healthy place to live."

Kelly Panis, another resident, said she has had dizzy spells and two sinus infections that have lingered for a total of four weeks.

She said her son and another boy have had sores that do not heal easily and required antibiotics.

Roxanne Delos Reyes said one of her children has had respiratory problems since he was 2 years old, but he and her other three children have been "sicker a lot in the last six months."

"They're always having congestion," Delos Reyes said. Mataafa said the experience has left her fatigued and angry at Amfac officials.

"It's a never-ending battle," she said. "I just want them to respect us as neighbors."

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