At least two children have tested positive for lead poisoning in a Kalihi neighborhood where state officials are still scrambling to fix a toxic waste dump, Hawaii News Now has learned.
The mother of the children, who asked that we not reveal her identity, says her daughter and nephew were diagnosed with lead poisoning last spring. Both children are toddlers who live in a home on Factory Street, where a layer of lead is buried beneath crumbling asphalt in some areas.
Her family was caught off guard by the test results.
"When I went to the doctor, she said my daughter had a 'six.' A number six for lead poisoning. My nephew had a '10,'" the mother said.
"Those levels suggest there might have been some exposure," says Dr. Josh Green, an emergency room physician who says a long term build up of lead can cause severe developmental problems.
"Up to five, it tends to be a non-issue. Five to 10, you're watching it. If it gets over 10, you start to get serious about it," said Dr. Green.
"They play outside. They play with the rocks," said the mother.
When we asked health department officials about the risk to residents last month, they didn't mention anyone who had tested positive for lead, even though the family's exposure had been reported to the department.
Fenix Grange is a program manager for the Department of Health's Hazard Evaluation Emergency Response Office. On March 13, she told Hawaii News Now that the department didn't "see a risk right now, but wanted to work with the city and county to make sure we can keep this area covered."
On Thursday, the department said the blood lead levels reported by the childrens' doctor weren't high enough for them to get involved. With the history of the neighborhood, it's an attitude that troubles some lawmakers.
"I really think it seems suspect, but what it does create is a level of mistrust. Every time they're coming out with information, you have to question whether they're being forthright or not, and that is a concern," said City Councilman Joey Manahan.
Both children have since fully recovered from the incident, and the city is taking steps to fix the problem.
After our report, the health department workers hand delivered a letter officially notifying residents about the problem. Department officials tell us there are other areas in Kakaako and Iwilei that are contaminated with lead. Despite repeated requests, officials still haven't told us exactly where they are.