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Lack of Disposal Site Delays EPA Lead-Contaminated Soil Removal in Kalihi

Ashley Mizuo/HPR
A worker fills potholes on Factory Street in Kalihi where lead contamination soil removal has been delayed. The filling of potholes is a short-term solution, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The long-awaited removal of soil with high lead levels on Factory Street in Kalihi won't start this month as planned. Instead the Environmental Protection Agency postponed the soil removal until next year because it is still seking a disposal site for the contaminated soil. 

In the meantime, the EPA is covering up potholes on the street as a short-term solution.

“EPA needs a little bit more time in order to find a location to dispose of project debris such as the asphalt and concrete as well as soil with lower levels of lead and for that reason we’re starting next year,” EPA Project Manager Amanda Pease said Wednesday.

“The risk right now at the site is really minimal for the public and by covering the soil we’re reducing even farther any contact with contaminated soil,” Pease said.

Lead is a health hazard, especially for children. The American Academy of Pediatrics warns that exposure to lead can cause serious damage to children's developing brains.

Authorities say a fishing supply store once located in the area that produced lead weights was the most likely source of the lead contamination. 

The contamination on Factory Street was first discovered in 1993. The road was paved over to lower exposure to nearby residents. At the time, the Hawaii Department of Health and the EPA determined that there was no longer a risk to residents in the area.

In 2017, the Hawaii Department of Health Hazard Evaluation Emergency Response office discovered that the paving had deteriorated, exposing the lead soil.

In April 2019, after about a two-year delay, the EPA was notified. The health department attributed the delay to a difficulty in determining the owner of Factory Street, which officials say is ownerless and abandoned.

Pease said the EPA planned on starting the removal of the lead contaminated soil this month, but has not been able to find a disposal site for the project.

“About 10% of the soil is considered hazardous waste because of the high levels of lead and that’s going to be disposed of at a hazardous waste facility on the mainland; we’ve already finished arranging that,” she said. “The other 90% -- we’re still in communication with a number of locations, including locations on the mainland.”

An EPA spokesperson added the agency is also in communication with facilities on Oahu.

Pease estimated that the work on Factory Street would last about six to seven weeks.

During the removal process, Pease explained that the EPA will be taking a number of precautions to protect the residents in the area from exposure.

“That includes dust suppression, air monitoring to make sure our dust suppression is effective, we’ll be backfilling each day so that there won’t be soil that’s uncovered,” she said. “We’re not going to be stockpiling anything on the site.”

Ashley Mizuo
Born and raised on O’ahu, she’s a graduate of ‘Iolani School and has a BA in Journalism and Political Science from Loyola University Chicago and an MA in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.
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