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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Fire beneath landfill sparks concerns

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer

State and city officials are investigating a fire burning beneath the city's Waimanalo Gulch landfill on the Wai'anae Coast that poses potential health and safety concerns.

Eric Takamura, director of the city Department of Environmental Services, said, "It is a big concern."

Takamura said the city was working with the private company that runs the city landfill — Waste Management Inc. — to install wells to recover methane gas when workers noticed unnaturally high temperatures.

Takamura said the city is monitoring the situation and will pour down liquid carbon dioxide to "suffocate the fire" if needed.

City officials who oversee the landfill plan to meet with state health officials and the company today to determine what will be done to fix the problem.

State deputy Health Director Laurence Lau said high temperatures in the dump flagged the presence of an underground fire. Now the state wants more information.

Lau said the state wants a detailed location of the fire, a fire response plan and assurance that any new solid waste will be isolated from the fire. He described the burning as "more a smoldering."

But he said it raises important concerns about air pollution, about the safety of workers and others who go to the landfill and about management issues that allowed it to occur.

As the fire burns below, Lau said, "there could be settling or a collapse which would endanger people and equipment above."

Environmental watchdog Carroll Cox said he's alarmed and believes that officials should have notified the public, especially the residents who live closest to the landfill.

Waste Management officials could not be reached for comment late yesterday.

Cox, who is president of Envirowatch Inc., said he's concerned about the health risks of the fire, from the air pollution to runoff and the risk that the burning garbage is unstable. "The danger of that landfill collapsing is real," Cox said. "The nearness to the ocean, that bothers me."

While fires do happen periodically at many landfills, this is the first Lau is aware of at the Waimanalo Gulch facility.

"In a well-run landfill, you should not have them," he said. "We view it as a significant matter."

Reach Robbie Dingeman at rdingeman@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2429.