Work to remove toxic levels of lead from Kalihi neighborhood delayed

Work to remove toxic levels of lead from Kalihi neighborhood delayed
The asphalt on Factory Street is the only thing that protects residents from toxic levels of lead buried by government decades ago. (Source: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - After years of waiting for the government to clean up the toxic dump site it buried beneath a Kalihi Street decades ago, there are new questions over where to put most of the contaminated soil once it’s removed have delayed the project once again.

On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it’s postponing a clean-up that was supposed to start in September until some time next year.

Health officials rediscovered the forgotten site in 2017, warning inaction would put families in danger. Now the asphalt that’s supposed to protect the public is rapidly crumbling, putting neighbors at risk.

EPA officials told HNN they plan to ship 10% of the soil considered “hazardous waste” to a facility on the mainland, but need more time to find a place to put the rest of it -- which contains lower lead levels.

It’s troubling news to the people who live there.

“I’m scared. I’m scared,” said Fe Abarra.

“I think this is urgent,” said Mae Buyacao. “And by delaying it — it really just shows that they don’t care.”

There are nearly 2000 people who live within a tenth of a mile of the contamination.

Tests show the highest concentrations of lead are close to where Factory Street meets North King.

Environmental experts say the levels of lead there are so high someone could potentially be exposed simply walking down the street.

“I think that’s a big deal here,” said Ed Merced, who lives nearby. “I mean especially for daily life if everybody’s always playing outside, kids playing.”

It’s been about a month since HNN last visited the site. In that short amount of time conditions had gotten much worse. Potholes were deeper. There was also a new hole in the road, close to two feet deep.

The EPA says in the next month it, “will cover potholes to reduce exposure to contaminated soil until the project can be completed.”

Once the project starts in 2020 officials say work will take about a month to complete.

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