Sewage Sludge and Bulky Trash Backlog: Impact of Trash Breach, Landfill Closure Growing

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BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Bulky trash items are piling up around the island, illegal dumping is on the rise, and sewage sludge is now being stored in make shift storage units and nearly out of capacity.

That is the word from the city’s Department of Environmental Services in response to questions posed by the Honolulu City Council on Monday about the impact of the January 13 trash breach from the city’s only public landfill in to the surrounding ocean waters.


Managed by Waste Management, Waimanalo Gulch has been closed since January 12, the day before a heavy rain storm dumped as much as 19 inches of rain on Oahu’s west side in a matter of hours.

With million gallons of water collected in its berms, the wall of a cell named “E-6” breached, sending dirty water and an unknown amount of trash and medical waste into the storm drains and the ocean.

There was no estimate on the amount of trash discharged into the ocean by Waste Management, the city administration or the state Department of Health.

The kinds of trash were not detailed, but syringes, needles, blood vials and other medical waste were found across the west Oahu beaches. Sewage sludge and ash from the H-Power plant also may have gone into the ocean, says Council member Ann Kobayashi.

Medical Waste washing up on Oahu's west shore. Photo courtesy

The beaches that were closed by the Ko Olina Resort and the military reopened January 25 and the city took down its warning signs.

But just days ago, Ko Olina Resorts’ royal blue lagoons were a brownish red. The resort sent out teams of divers with metal detectors to try to clean up the medical waste and other trash dumped in the ocean washing up on their property and that of the soon to be opened Disney Resort. Community groups, the city and Waste Management also aided in the clean up.

The city announced the landfill would be open Thursday, January 27, but yesterday said the landfill will be closed for another week.

Meanwhile the impact from this “environmental disaster” is not nearly over, nor is its impact on the community and the area businesses.

The public bulky trash pick up is on hold, and that is leading to an increase in illegal dumping and piles of junk around the city, says the city’s environmental department spokesperson.

The city’s sewage plants having being holding sewage sludge back up that is quickly becoming a problem. Waste Management will begin taking that sludge today and other trash deemed “critical.”

In addition, Ko Olina Resort took a huge hit with negative national news coverage, says Ken Williams, its general manager. In addition, the hotel had to absorb costs of the clean up.

Ko Olina along with many residents in the area, continue lobbying effort to get the landfill closed and moved to another location after the land use permit runs out on July 31, 2013, but many other community groups lobby against the move fearing the landfill will be placed in their neighborhoods.

The federal and state governments, meanwhile, are investigating the breach and may issue fines and other sanctions that could amount to thousands of dollars a day against Waste Management, and ultimately, city taxpayers.

Waste Management of Hawaii with its 31 employees has operated Waimanalo Gulch Landfill for 20 years. The state has penalized Waste Management before. Environmental Watchdog Carroll Cox yesterday distributed a copy of the latest state fine from 2010 for $424,000 because Waste Management did not properly construct a berm that would stabilize the western wall of the landfill.

“The delay and release of leachate (not “storm water” as claimed) from the landfill, stems from a combination of factors, including faulty designs, illegal activities/construction, and failure to report noncompliance to Department of Health’s rules,” says Cox. “These factors, and not the purported “100-year flood” (claimed by Waste Management as the reason for the problems) are involved.”

Three years earlier in 2007, Waste Management and the city paid the state $1.5 million for solid 18 waste violations, because the company had covered solid waste properly and had overfilled its cells with solid waste.

Hawaii Reporter obtained a copy of the agreement between the EPA and Waste Management, which outlines this most recent federal investigation into the January 13 breach. See it here: WaimanaloGulchSanita#ADC64F

Waste Management, in a statement to the media, pledges to cooperate in the investigation and to get the landfill repaired and reopened as quickly as possible. The company also started a hotline for residents to report any trash washing up on their beaches near the landfill. 808-668-2985.

The Department of Health continues to urge swimmers and beach goers to watch for needles that may still be washing up or floating in the ocean.

Cox says the public deserves a full disclosure of events and actions by Waste Management, the City & County of Honolulu, Department of Health and the US Environmental Protection Agency. “Let’s stop the spin,” Cox says.