City worried about sewer sludge in landfill crisis - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

City worried about sewer sludge in landfill crisis

Joe Whelan Joe Whelan
Tulsi Gabbard-Tamayo Tulsi Gabbard-Tamayo
Tim Steinberger Tim Steinberger
Stanley Chang Stanley Chang

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The landfill crisis is getting worse by the day as the amount of illegal dumping grows and now the city has to store sludge from its sewers. 

Today all the key people testified before the city council.  The point was figure out what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again.

More than 22 inches of rain fell over the landfill in a three week span from the end of December through early January.  The area normally gets 19 inches all year.  That's what caused the garbage, including medical waste, to spill out into the environment.  But the fact that there was no emergency plan already in place surprised the council.

"In this particular storm the reason it was so catastrophic is because most of the water fell between an 8 or 9 hour period which compressed the amount of water the landfill received in that period," said Joe Whelan, Waste Management General Manager.  "We don't anticipate nor do we routinely have actual waste discharges. This particular event happened because of the shear nature of the storm."

"I actually was very shocked to see and hear that there was no automatic response plan to be initiated in the event of absolute worst case scenario," said Tulsi Gabbard-Tamayo, Honolulu Councilmember, Downtown.

The state Department of Health says it is investigating and there could be violations and fines but they're still gathering information.

The city says the landfill situation has reached a crisis level not just because of all the illegal dumping but because sewers are also being affected.

The sewer sludge that usually goes to the landfill has to be stored at various treatment plants around the island and that doesn't smell good.

"We have to expand our ability to temporarily hold those bio-solids and of course associated with that is going to be odors so it is certainly a concern," said Tim Steinberger, City Environmental Services Director.

"We're not only talking about odors we're talking about potential violations of state and federal standards," said Stanley Chang, Honolulu Councilmember, East Honolulu.

Work on the damaged landfill liner hasn't started yet because they haven't cleared out all the debris to get to the problem but all the people and materials to fix the job are on island.

The longer it goes the more difficult it becomes to handle on a day to day basis," said Steinberger.

The meeting also allowed people including the mayor to talk about medical waste disposal.

"It is clearly alarming to look at," said Peter Carlisle, Honolulu Mayor, in testimony before the council.

The public is already pushing the council to make changes so this doesn't happen again.

"Basically shred all sharps and dispose correctly of and incinerate if possible all medical waste," said Arlene Norton, Leeward Oahu Resident and retired nurse.

Landfill operators say a new storm diversion system is three weeks away from being finished.  

The city still needs people to continue holding onto their bulky waste until the landfill reopens.  Don't put it out by the curb.  The city is however still accepting white metal appliances.

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