Landfill succumbs to rain, spills trash into ocean at Ko Olina

Joe Whelan
Joe Whelan
Gary Gill
Gary Gill
Tim Steinberger
Tim Steinberger

By Brooks Baehr - bio | email

Workers from Waimanalo Gulch Landfill picked up medical waste and other trash from the coast at Ko Olina Friday. And city workers collected water samples to be tested for contaminants.

Rain from a storm late Wednesday and early Thursday overwhelmed the sediment holding pond at the landfill. Water poured over the banks of the pond carrying garbage from the landfill through storm drains and into the ocean at Ko Olina.

"This should not have happened. There's not supposed to be storm water running over a landfill and certainly a landfill is not supposed to erode and put garbage into the ocean," said Gary Gill, deputy director with the state Department of Health.

"Any visible garbage that's left the site and is on the beach needs to be cleaned up.  Aside from just removing the viewable floatables, the trash, any kind of medical waste that might be out there, you'll be wondering about contaminants whether they be chemical or biological," Gill added.

Waimanalo Gulch Landfill is owned by the city. It is operated by a Waste Management. The company is in the process of upgrading its drainage system, but said Friday those upgrades were still three weeks from being finished when the storm hit.

Waste Management general manager Joe Whelan said the landfill usually sees between 12 and 15 inches of rain a year. Close to 11 inches fell during the mid-week storm.

"You're talking an awful lot of water accumulating that we normal don't see. So, I mean, you have to put things into perspective. It's similar to having a tsunami coming off the hillside," said Tim Steinberger, director of the city Department of Environmental Services.

Beaches at the Ko Olina resort are closed and warning signs have been posted near the outfall below the landfill warning people the water is likely contaminated.

The incident has renewed calls for the landfill to be closed.

"It is abundantly clear that the Waimanalo Gulch Landfill needs to be closed. No amount of 'best management practices' can mitigate the adverse impacts this landfill operation has on the surrounding environment, including the community's health and welfare," said Ken Williams, of the Ko Olina Community Association.

The landfill is closed until the water recedes. Normal automated curb-side trash pick-up will continue as usual, but the city is temporarily suspending its bulky trash pick-up. Steinberger urges people not to put large items out for pick-up until the landfill is re-opened.

The EPA is gathering information about the spill through the state Department of Health. "When there's a violation of permits or water quality, there's a potential enforcement action," Gill added. That "enforcement action" could come in the form of fines against the city or Waste Management.

Watch the accompanying video to see medical waste still along the shore and to get an idea of just how dirty the water at Ko Olina was Friday.

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