City confused on permit issue over cyanide dumping case

Published: Jul. 5, 2012 at 10:43 PM HST|Updated: Jul. 5, 2012 at 11:49 PM HST
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WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) - City of Honolulu officials within the Department of Environmental Services met for five hours today on how to respond to our questions about the Denny Wong Design dumping chemicals down the drain investigation.  They concluded their response was not to say anything because of the lawsuits involved.

"Over the course of the last year, from this episode, this incident, this is everything I've had to take this is for my lungs, this is for getting rid of the toxins in my body," said Stephen Willis, who showed us a bag full of empty prescription medicine bottles and inhalers he has taken, and is suing over his injuries.

Stephen Willis claims he was one of the victims poisoned by cyanide and other chemicals that attacked his muscles, lungs and even mind and he's frustrated nothing has been done about the company he blames.

"Which agency is responsible for this? There is a failure in the system to protect the people on what has happened in this case," said Willis.

Denny Wong moved from Kaimuki to the Waikiki location about six years ago, but he never got a permit for the new location thus was not monitored.

Then last June holes were burned in drain pipes coming from the Denny Wong Design offices.  Building maintenance workers from Eaton Square, where Wong's office is located were injured.  Willis was one those workers tasked with cleaning up the broken pipes.

After the incident a city investigation found Wong's company was dumping 20 times the legal limit of cyanide.

"When does he have to pay for the repercussions of the things he's done to the people? How many more people have to get hurt before something is done by the city?" said Willis.

"Due to the staff of Denny Wong Design unable to provide Material Safety Data Sheets on the above listed chemicals found on site, and the inability to provide verification that the above listed chemicals are at safe levels to discharge into the sewer, the health and safety of the general public may be at risk. It is Smith's recommendation that all operations involving any chemicals at Denny Wong Design cease until at such time it can be verified that the chemicals being used during operations are of acceptable levels to discharge," wrote Aaron Smith, investigator with the City in his report dated June 23, 2011.

"Found Denny Wong Design, to be using cyanide bombing, electro-plating, and acid bath washes in the manufacturing of jewelry. Staff is unable to provide proper procedure in writing or verbal in the pre-treatment and disposal of hazardous waste. Staff admits to dumping cyanide bombing solution down the drain," wrote Chris Sprague, City Enforcement Administrator in a separate report dated September 2, 2011. "Injuries to property management staff and employees of Real Estate Company indicate exposure to the chemicals as hazardous. Recommend Denny Wong Design cease the discharge of waste into the sewer system until appropriate protocol and procedure can be established."

Despite those recommendations, later in September Wong was issued a permit to dump legal amounts of chemicals down the drain. The company is supposed to self enforce twice a year and the city can also perform random site inspections.

Then in May 2012 the city said Wong illegally dumped more cyanide.  But soon after the city retracted the violation saying it was a permitting error.

Now the City has no idea if the company is in compliance because it's not sure what permit the company should have even 10 months after it was issued.  It could be months before it's figured out.

"I'm concerned there is a failure, a comedy of errors here that the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing.  This is a glaring, a vivid example of agencies having the same jurisdiction and passing it to the next guy and nothing gets done," said Carroll Cox, EnviroWatch.

While the city declined to meet with HawaiiNewsNow today, managers did speak with Cox.  Cox questioned the city and alleges a cover-up.

"I smell something fishy about this whole situation. There have been others who have been prosecuted, I can think of Stephen Swift, the EPA prosecuted him for simply storing chemicals. This brings to mind selective prosecution.  In other situations they go out and prosecute them but in this case there is a kid glove treatment and their willingness to admit there is a wrong permit issued," said Cox. "Everybody loses in this situation and that includes the taxpayer because these are professionals, these are scientists supposedly who are skilled and if they can't get it right who do we turn to."

We spoke with Denny Wong's attorney Brian Hiyane today who declined to talk on camera saying they'll defend themselves in court not in the media, however he did add that the company has been in compliance with the city since September. He did not provide any evidence supporting that claim.

Copyright 2012 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.