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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, December 12, 2003

Medical waste site worries legislative task force

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Staff Writer

A legislative task force on waste management completed a several-month inspection of the Islands yesterday, examining numerous illegal dump sites across O'ahu and a company in Campbell Industrial Park where 30 tons of medical waste — a backlog dating to July — waits to be processed.

Samuel Y.K. Liu, president and CEO of Asia Pacific Environment Technology, said the Hawaii Medical Vitrification facility in Kapolei is reducing its backlog of medical waste awaiting processing.

Rebecca Breyer • The Honolulu Advertiser

Representatives of Hawaii Medical Vitrification assured task force head Sen. Melodie Aduja that some 8,000 containers of medical waste — some sitting in the sun — were sealed and posed no threat to the community.

The company also said it had begun to reduce the backlog, but Aduja was still concerned, especially about the containers outside.

"It's very hazardous toxic material, and it should have gone through the vitrification process," she said. "If they cannot handle it, they should not be taking it in."

Vitrification uses extreme heat to disintegrate waste and turn the resulting molecular remnants into usable by-products, such as glass.

Now that the Task Force on Waste Management and Recycling has completed its statewide assessment, members will produce a report with recommendations for the next Legislature on improving waste management and reducing illegal dumping.

Next week, the task force will hold briefings at the state Capitol to hear from local agencies, neighborhood board members, civic groups and state and federal agencies.

Among other notable finds yesterday was an illegal dump site on Kamehameha Highway in lush Waiahole, where Aduja and other task force members surprised several men removing a valuable copper core from a freezer, and automobile parts from some of the eight junked vehicles there.

At a glance

What: Task Force on Waste Management and Recycling information briefings

When: 1 p.m. Monday & Tuesday

Where: Capitol, Conference Room 016

Motor oil was spilled on the ground, lead batteries were exposed to the elements, and a propane tank lay among pieces of furniture, computer monitors, construction demolition material and a water heater — all of which pose a hazard to the environment, said Aduja, D-23rd (Kane'ohe, Kahuku).

"Most of these things could have been recycled," she said, noting that the mess lay less than 100 yards from the beach.

The task force inspected more than a dozen sites yesterday, but the visit to Hawaii Medical Vitrification generated the most attention.

The company blamed the backlog in part on a new federal ban on imports of heat-conducting electrodes needed to disintegrate the waste.

By the time the company was able to get permission to receive the electrodes, the waste backlog had mushroomed.

Processing started again about three weeks ago, and the company can handle a ton of material a day, said Samuel Liu, president and CEO. The company recently applied to the state Department of Health to increase productivity to four tons a day.

At that rate, it would be only seven days to process the remaining material, Liu said.

Craig Gorsuch, the company's environmental, health and safety specialist, said the business had been working with the state Department of Health, which inspected the backlog, he said.

"There's no health, safety or environmental risk to the community at all," Gorsuch said.

Touring with Aduja yesterday were Sens. Bob Hogue, R-24th (Kailua, Kane'ohe); Willie Espero, D-20th ('Ewa Beach, Waipahu); and Fred Hemmings, R-25th (Kailua, Waimanalo, Portlock); and Rep. Mark Moses, R-40th (Makakilo, Kapolei, Royal Kunia).

Hogue and Hemmings said the solution to the state's dumping problem is prosecution, which will show the state and the city mean business.

"We have to have fear of prosecution, and active prosecution," Hogue said.

Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com or 234-5266.