Thursday, December 18, 2014

Toxic Contamination in Village Park

By Henry Curtis

A major Village Park health cluster became apparent in the 1990s. Kids were born healthy. Mothers of first graders noticed that something was wrong. There were significant health issues and some kids had open heart surgery.

Village Park is an area of just under one square mile where 9600 people live. The population includes roughly one quarter of Waipahu. The 2000 census indicated that the community was 58% Asian and 21% multi-racial. Whites accounted for 9% of the population. The southern boundary is the H1. At the western edge is Kunia Road, which becomes Fort Weaver Road as it goes under the H1 heading towards Eva Beach.

There were a large number of possible culprits as to why kids were getting sick. The reinforced underground concrete weapon bunkers of Lualualei Waikele lay just mauka of the community. The Navy could neither confirm nor deny whether nuclear weapons were stored there. Residents could occasionally hear underground noises from the secret naval railroad tracks that transferred weapons to Pearl Harbor.

Up gradient from Village Park is Kunia. In 1977 Del Monte Oahu Plantation was offloading pesticides into containers right next to the drinking well when something went terribly wrong. Some 495 gallons of the pesticide ethylene dibromide went down the well. It took the Department of Health a few years to begin testing the well. In 1994, nearly two decades after the spill occurred, the site became a Superfund site.

Therefore it was not surprising that the Hawaii Department of Health (HDOH) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) couldn’t see any possible connection between the Kunia spill just upslope from the Village Park health cluster.

The Hawai`i Department of Health reacted to the Village Park cluster by doing a meaningless birth study that found nothing. The community knew this would be the case -- since the kids were born healthy.

During meetings with the EPA regarding the Kunia spill, the EPA had presented maps showing where 18,000 tons of soil had been relocated to what would be the future sites of the Village Park and Royal Kunia residential developments.

The fact that Kunia soil found its way to Village Park made sense. When Village Park was developed, the Environmental Impact Statement said the land was filled and graded. 

But when the community worried that the fill had come from the Del Monte site, the EPA produced new soil transfer maps that eliminated the Royal Kunia and Village Park deposit sites.

Meanwhile there was growing concern in Village Park since one in ten children in that subdivision had a learning disability, and on one street, three children had open-heart surgery before the age of five.

Determining the extent of toxic contamination and the threat it poses can be made more or less complex by the level of willingness of agencies to look into the issues.

The late Clifford Jamille (Chief of the Honolulu Board of Water Supply) came willingly to the community, and met with parents at their homes. He stated that the water supply was secured because it was treated. 

However, he was willing to provide before and after toxic data, and to put the information in the bills of the Village Park community.

A community group and Life of the Land secured $225K from the State Legislature for soil testing. Kudos to the Legislators who cared, people like Representatives Ken Ito, Tom Okamura, and Dwight Takamine; and Senator Carol Fukunaga.

The search for the culprit was sort of like the game battleship. It was unknown whether the contamination was in the air, land or surface water. If it was land-based it could be anywhere and at any soil depth.

Prior to testing, the DOH stated that if there were high hits of chromium they would do further tests to distinguish between chromium 3 and chromium 6, one being relatively safe, the other relatively dangerous.

A random soil sample testing was conducted at several dozen sites. The soil analysis found high levels of arsenic, chromium and dioxin.

After finding chromium, DOH stated that the community was mistaken. DOH would assume, in the absence of proof, that all the chromium was good chromium. That was a heck of an assumption.

Dioxin was looked for at only six sites. All showed significant levels of dioxin. DOH preceded to ignore the dioxin issue.

In recent years the Department of Health has streamlined the processing of business applications.

Hopefully the regulation of toxic sites and disease clusters  will also be brought into the modern era some time soon.

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