EPA to remove extremely high levels of lead buried under deteriorating Kalihi road

Updated: Aug. 24, 2019 at 9:57 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Like many roads in Honolulu, the shoulder of Factory Street in Kalihi is crumbling — and potholes are plentiful.

But there’s one significant difference between that deteriorating road and all the others: It’s the only thing protecting the people who live there from soil littered with toxic waste.

“I’m worried because, you know, the holes are getting bigger,” said long-time resident Lita Dimacali.

The asphalt on Factory Street covers up extremely high levels of lead — buried by the government decades ago. Health officials rediscovered the forgotten site in 2017, warning inaction would put families in danger.

Since then, neither the city nor the state has stepped up to take responsibility for the orphaned street. Now federal authorities are taking over.

Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency confirm that crews will start work next month to remove the contaminated soil buried beneath the asphalt on Factory Street.

State health officials first made the discovery in the early 1990s after four kids living in the neighborhood were diagnosed with lead poisoning.

It’s believed the soil was polluted decades earlier by a company that manufactured lead fishing weights.

City Councilman Joey Manahan brought the issue to the public’s attention when he found out about it nearly three years ago.

“They capped this area with asphalt so the lead could not escape. That’s how we fixed the problem before. But you see we have these potholes now the soil is still contaminated,” said Manahan.

Normal levels of lead found in someone’s backyard are around 200 mg/kg. It’s slightly higher in urban settings.

Tests taken when the Kalihi site was rediscovered in 2017 revealed concentrations of more than 24,000 mg/kg under the road and along the shoulder of Factory Street.

That figure is more than double what was initially reported.

With local government unable to find a permanent fix, the EPA is preparing to take action.

“When they come in and remediate the soil, they’re going to be digging up the street — taking that soil, putting it on a truck and it’s going to be disposed of immediately,” said Manahan.

Residents were excited to learn about the plan saying any real solution has been a long time coming.

“It’s good. For the kids,” said John Ancheta Jr. “They should have done that earlier.”

Work is estimated to take close to a month to complete. Neighbors will be getting more information on what to expect in the coming weeks.

Health officials say to their knowledge, there have been no reports of illness. They said they are continuing to monitor lead blood levels of kids that get tested.

They advise the residents living in the neighborhood to fill the potholes.

They add as long as the children are kept away from the open potholes and they wash their hands and face frequently and especially before eating there should not be much exposure.

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