EXCLUSIVE: City investigates Hawaiian Pumping

EXCLUSIVE: City investigates Hawaiian Pumping
Published: Oct. 10, 2014 at 2:50 AM HST|Updated: Oct. 10, 2014 at 10:02 AM HST
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HALAWA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A company under state investigation for allegedly dumping thousands of gallons of oil products near Kawainui Marsh is now in the cross hairs of city inspectors.

That's after a former employee came forward with new allegations that the company poured thousand of gallons of petroleum sludge into the city's sewers.

"Probably on a weekly basis it was 500 to 600 gallons and of course when we had the bigger project there was a lot more being dumped," said the former employee Charles Popken.

"It was all the residuals ... the grime, the muck, the diesel that's too dirty to go through any pumps and filters .. just the left over nasty chemicals at the bottom."

The oily mixture includes petroleum products that Hawaiian Pumping washes out from tanks on ships, power plants and other industrial sites.

The company also has hauled away bilge water from Navy ships and even a nuclear submarine docked at Pearl Harbor.

Popken said the material includes hazardous materials and that employees are often required to wear protective gear such as masks and breathing apparatuses when handling them.

Hawaiian Pumping does have a wastewater discharge permit but that only allows it to dump raw sewage and grease into the sewer line.

But the permit specifies that "any wastewater contaminated with petroleum ... cannot be discharge in the sewer."

"Every little bit that he dumps and doesn't have to pay for is a bunch of money he saves and can pocket," said Popken.

The company's head, Dingo Sanchez, could not be reached. But an employee denied the dumping allegations.

"No, it's all false," said a company foreman.

The state and city aren't the only ones taking a close look at the company.

Hawaii News Now has learned that the U.S. Department of Transportation has fined Hawaiian Pumping more than $14,000 this year for hiring a driver without a current commercial drivers license and for not conducting random drug and alcohol tests for drivers.

The federal fines pale in comparison to those the city or state could issue if they found that Hawaiian Pumping broke Hawaii law.

Investigators with the state Health Department are now looking into allegations that the company dumped the oily sludge into a stream feeding into the Kawainui Marsh.

They are also looking into the company for transporting used oil on Hawaii's roads without a permit.

The city penalties range from $1,000 to $20,000 per violation and the state could issue fines of up to $25,000 a day.

According to the city, any petroleum product dumped into sewer lines eventually makes its ways to Oahu's sewage treatment plants where its made into a cake-like material that's sent to landfills.

But some environmentalists fear that most of the oil escapes into the ocean.

"It's impossible to skim off all the oil and the suspended contaminants contained in the oil," said environmental activist Carroll Cox.

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