State of Hawaii

State disputes
waste audit

The health director says that
the audit is misleading, but
agrees there are problems

The state Department of Health continues to be plagued by management problems that prevent it from carrying out its responsibilities for managing solid waste, according to a new state audit released yesterday.

As pointed out in past audits, the department still is not properly monitoring, inspecting or enforcing solid-waste regulations, particularly for landfills, the report from Auditor Marion Higa said.

In its response to the audit, the Health Department agreed that there are some problems in the solid-waste program but called the audit misleading.

The agency is protecting public health by focusing on open dumps -- which are not addressed in the audit -- and is working with only $500,000 a year from the Environmental Management Fund, not millions as stated in the audit, Health Director Chiyome Fukino wrote in the response.

Counties that responded to the audit also said a lack of funding was a key source of problems related to solid-waste management.

Under a 1991 statute, the Health Department was charged with coordinating statewide solid-waste management efforts, including identifying and monitoring related environmental and public health issues.

Among other criticisms, the audit contends that the Health Department:

>> Took an unreasonable amount of time to review permit applications for disposal facilities.

>> Failed to issue notices of violations for offenses and to ensure that solid-waste facilities submit reports as required.

>> Failed to ensure compliance with statutory planning requirements.

>> Did not have current and reliable estimates of remaining volume capacities and expected operating lives for landfills.

Fukino said the agency is working on improvements, including a new computer tracking system for permits and reporting requirements.

She disputed the audit's implication that the department does not protect public health, arguing that the audit was limited to a small portion of the solid-waste program's total responsibilities.

"For example," she wrote, "there was no discussion of the program's concerted efforts to address complaints or its enforcement against illegal operations such as open dumps.

"There is greater potential for harm at these open dumps through the release of unmanaged contaminants into the environment than at many permitted facilities."

State Health Department


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