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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 21, 2010

Hawaii County finds toxins in parks facilities, lacks money for fixes

By Jason Armstrong
Hawaii Tribune-Herald

After spending more than $1 million on studies, Hawaii County knows which recreational facilities contain hazardous materials but only has enough money to fix two of them.

The process of inspecting 123 Big Island park sites was started nearly two years ago when the parks department spent $1.15 million hiring three companies to survey its facilities, according to information the department provided.

The contractors looked for lead, arsenic, mercury, asbestos, chlordane and polychlorinated biphenyl, or PCBs, which were found in numerous facilities.

"Most of the problems come from the plantation buildings we inherited," Deputy Director Clayton Honma said.

Those rural gymnasiums are more than 50 years old, added parks planner James Komata.

That age gives many of the facilities historical status, which creates another layer of government review and makes obtaining required renovation permits more time-consuming, Honma said.

The private inspectors identified asbestos, lead paint, arsenic and mercury at the Hilo Municipal Golf Course clubhouse, kitchen, pro shop and driving range.

An orange fence has been placed around part of the pro shop portion of the golf course building to keep people from touching the peeling paint, but it remains open for use, Honma said.

The Department of Parks and Recreation received $500,000 to do repairs, but only $341,789 of that amount remains after it spent money to install barricades and provide hazardous material training for all employees, Honma said.

The balance should be enough to repair A.J. Watt Gym, commonly known as the Mountain View gymnasium and senior center, and Arthur C. Greenwell Park (Sgt. Rodney J. Yano Hall) in South Kona, he said.

"They're our top two priorities right now," Honma said. "That's all we can do, actually, with the $341,000."

According to the report by Myounghee Noh & Associates LLC, elevated levels of lead were found in paint used on the Mountain View gym walls, doors and trim. There's also lead in the soil, arsenic in the ceiling tiles and chalkboard, and dangerous mercury in the light tubes and switches.

Those and similar conditions at other park sites aren't preventing people from using them, however, Honma said.

"Most people can access and have pretty good use of our facilities," he said.

But not Hakalau Gym. That's the only county recreational facility closed completely due to the presence of hazardous materials, Honma said.

The three consultants who did the hazardous material surveys didn't estimate the cost to clean up the sites or suggest where repairs should be made. However, they did recommend workers report the presence of hazardous materials, avoid sweeping dust and take other safety precautions.

Honma said there's no prioritized list for other repairs due to the lack of money, noting the department has had to make costly improvements to numerous facilities so the disabled may use them easier.

"We'll try to seek more funding," he said.