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EPA, Hawai'i DOH, County of Hawai'i start removing contaminated soil at 'Hilo Burrito' site

Release Date: 7/19/2004
Contact Information: Dean Higuchi, (808) 541-2711

RELEASED JOINTLY BY: U.S. EPA, Hawai'i Department of Health, County of Hawai'i

HONOLULU--The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Hawai'i Department of Health and the County of Hawai'i began today removing and disposing of contaminated soil located near the Hilo Bayfront Recreation area on the Big Island that posed a hazard to the environment.

"This cleanup will provide residents peace of mind that the Hilo waterfront area and near shore waters will be free of contamination from this site," said Keith Takata, Superfund division director for the EPA=s Pacific Southwest Region. "The removal of the contaminated soil will allow Hilo residents continued enjoyment of this valuable recreational resource."

The site, called the "Hilo Burrito," consists of about 6,000 tons of contaminated soil has been wrapped and stored in plastic, resembling a large burrito. The soil contains volatile and semi-volatile polyaromatic hydrocarbons from an old Hilo gas manufacturing plant that was destroyed by the tsunami that hit Hilo in 1960. The burrito is located at the mouth of the flood channel on the Hilo flood plain near the Ponahawai St. side of the Bayfront Recreation area.

"This team removal action eliminates the threat of hazardous contaminants being released in known flood and tsunami inundation areas," said Laurence Lau, DOH Deputy Director for Environmental Health. "This coordinated EPA, DOH, and Hawaii County response will protect the public health and the environment as well as maintain necessary flood control and valuable park lands."

The DOH requested assistance from the EPA as heavy rain and flooding could degrade the burrito storage area and spread the contaminated soil to the recreation area and into Hilo Bay. Cleanup crews will also remove a second area of about 1,000 tons of contaminated soil near the burrito. This area was exposed during the November 2000 floods that ate away the pond area at the mouth of the flood channel near where the soil is stored.

"The County of Hawai'i is very grateful to the U.S. EPA and the Hawai'i State Department of Health for helping us make Hawai'i Island a safer and better place to live," said Big Island Mayor Harry Kim. "I thank them for doing this right."

Work on the site will last for about four weeks as the contaminated soil is packed for transport and disposal at the West Hawai'i Sanitary Landfill, the only permitted site available on the Big Island to take the soil. The soil will form the initial layer required for a new municipal waste area at the landfill and reduce the county's cost for preparing the area