Sunday, February 17, 2002

Kaneohe Bay
cleanup to remove
toxic chemical

Low levels of PCBs
were found in an inlet
more than 2 years ago

By Diana Leone

An inlet of South Kaneohe Bay will be cleared of low levels of a suspected cancer-causing chemical over the next several weeks, more than two years after the contamination was confirmed there.

Workers with Eagle North America, of Augusta, Georgia, anticipate that "vacuuming" up about 800 cubic yards of silt, with small amounts of PCBs bonded to it, will take about a week and a half, said Dennis Allen, the job supervisor.

Sediment in a small cove just north of the Alii Shores Yacht Club was polluted with PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) which ran down a drainage culvert from a leaky electrical transformer uphill at the Kaneohe Safeway store. PCBs, which are an oily mixture of chlorinated compounds that have been found to cause cancer in animals, were used until 1977 as a lubricant in high heat machinery.

Store manager Merv Lam said construction crews working on a remodeling job discovered the leaky transformer behind the building. All store employees were tested at that time for possible exposure to the PCBs, but everyone was OK, he said.

Lam didn't know the cost of the cleanup project, and Safeway's corporate environmental affairs officer could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Residents were warned in June 1999 not to eat fish or shellfish from the area or to swim there, said Deputy State Health Director Gary Gill. However, it may take years of regularly eating contaminated fish and shellfish to build up levels of chemicals of health concern.

Testing when the contamination was discovered found levels near 2 parts per million. Gill called the amounts present "not huge amounts, but still high enough that it requires action."

The Environmental Protection Agency requires remediation when there is more than 1 part per million. Gill confirmed that Safeway is paying the cost of the cleanup.

"We're so happy they're doing it," said Page Reitz, whose backyard is next to the inlet. Reitz bought her Kaneohe bayfront house in 1997, but didn't learn until 1999 when she saw a news article that there was PCB contamination nearby.

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