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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, October 11, 2001

Chemical spill forces Pawa'a evacuations

By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer

Ten people were treated for "mild symptoms" from a toxic spill yesterday in Pawa'a that forced the evacuation of a supermarket and an adjacent church building.

A firefighter undergoes a decontamination washdown after responding to a chemical spill at the Beretania Street Foodland in Pawa'a.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

The milky-colored liquid was sent to a University of Hawai'i-Manoa laboratory for analysis. HFD spokesman Capt. Richard Soo said the findings indicated it was a petroleum-based substance, such as old thinner, paint or solvent. "It appears someone used a dumpster to dispose of it," Soo said.

The liquid spilled from a Horizon Waste Services of Hawaii Inc. truck that had just emptied a dumpster in the parking lot of Foodland Super Market at 1460 S. Beretania St. shortly before 5 a.m. HFD's Hazardous Materials unit, however, were not called to the scene until 8:28 a.m.

Thirty-five people from Foodland Super Market in Pawa'a and the Church of Jesus Christ building were evacuated shortly before 9 a.m., and the Kina'u-Makiki intersection was closed to traffic as a precaution, said Soo. The department's action was not triggered by the heightened alert since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he said.

"The reason we stepped it up to the evacuation level was that two people presented symptoms and we needed to identify the cause," Soo said.

All 10 people taken to the Queen's Medical Center Emergency Room were treated and released by mid-afternoon, a hospital spokeswoman said. Three Foodland employees and the Horizon truck driver were among those treated. The other six were reportedly delivery-truck drivers who left the scene but returned later to be checked out after experiencing symptoms.

Those affected complained of skin irritation, itchy throats and watery eyes.

Soo said that he believed the public is more aware of the threat of injuries resulting from chemical spills since the East Coast terror attacks. "The interesting thing was that at least five (delivery) drivers voluntarily returned and wanted to undergo decon (decontamination) and be checked out at the ER."

A Foodland Super Market and neighboring Church of Jesus Christ building were evacuated from about 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Charlie Davis, the operations supervisor for Horizon Waste Services of Hawaii Inc., said his driver Albert Walker smelled "gasoline" when his rubbish truck emptied the dumpster just before 5 a.m. Walker continued on his route but later stopped at Foodland when he saw the fire trucks, Davis said. Walker complained of breathing problems and was treated at the Queen's Medical Center and released from it, Davis said.

"He won't be coming into work (today)," Davis said of his employee. "I think he'll be OK."

A Foodland manager, two other employees, Walker and several other delivery vendors underwent "wash-down" decontaminations or were treated at the Queen's Medical Center, Soo said.

The "all clear" was given at about 3:30 p.m., and Foodland was re-opened a short time later, Soo said.

Soo said the dumpster and rubbish truck were deemed "contaminated" and needed to be cleaned thoroughly before they are used again.

Yesterday, most people understood the emergency measures and said they welcomed the extensive public-safety operation by fire, police, the state Department of Health and Oahu Civil Defense.

"I appreciate the preventative measures," said Chris Shinners, one of the church evacuees. "The fire department and police did fantastic jobs."