Potential to become the greatest PR crisis in Hawaii's history as a tourist destination
Oahu health and safety threatened by medical waste catastrophe
Who you gonna call?
With back-to-back headline stories in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reading, "Wastewater discharge from Waimanalo Gulch landfill continues" (January 14), "Medical waste spreads down Leeward Coast" (January 15), and "Rain dislodges medical waste" (January 18) - it's anybody's guess how the Hawai`i Tourism Authority will deal with what is quickly becoming perhaps the greatest PR crisis in Hawai`i`s history as a tourist destination.
A "wall" of heavily-contaminated water, garbage, and mud containing a veritable witch's brew of heavy metals and chemicals such as chlordane, fecal matter (processed then dumped as "sludge" from Honolulu County's wastewater treatment plants), and medical waste containing full vials of blood and syringes all came roaring down after a heavy rain caused a "cell" to burst in the controversial Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill high above Oahu's elite Ko Olina Resort hotel and their exclusive gated condo development. Also impacted is the Disney Company's not-yet-opened Aulani Resort & Spa, "a place celebrating Hawaiian history, culture, and artwork." Little comment has emanated from the two mega-million destination resorts on what is now being mislabeled by one Honolulu City & County officials as a "catastrophic weather event."
The fact of the matter is, the "25-year design" of the Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill failed; none of the "protective" systems now in place worked. The so-called "25-year design" specs are based upon both State and City-County regulations, which say that the design should anticipate having a heavy storm at least once every 25 years, and the system must be designed to handle a 7.5 rain during a 24-hour period." O`ahu is, after all, a tropical island prone to such rains. One of the first questions one might ask is, "where is rainfall measured for such a design?" and I'll leave those particularly-interesting details for another day.
Sadly, seemingly rather than immediate action, several recently-appointed State and City & County officials instead all rushed to "spin" the disaster with such comments as, don't worry because "it's all been sanitized." This was taking place at the very moment that community organizations and volunteers were organizing and mobilizing to begin the massive cleanup effort. Immediately following the disaster, few if any State or City & County employees had been deployed to assist. One local blogger asked, "Why wasn't the Hawai`i State National Guard not mobilized the day this happened?" Unfortunately, the mess is just that bad.
In addition to impacting the recent and wealthier enclaves in Oahu's once-local Ewa area, and Hawai`i's endangered Monk Seal and turtle populations, our once-pristine beaches, surfing, fishing, crabbing, and all the rest - the disaster is greatly impacting poorer nearby "local" residents, many who have lived there for generations; perhaps the real story here.
Meanwhile, Ko Olina Resort's private lagoons, and the public beaches all along Oahu's Leeward Coast will remain closed "until further notice" - as will Honolulu's largest dump - the Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill with trash collection already backing up around the entire island. Officials from the contracted landfill operator, Waste Management, said the dump could be reopened "very soon" - if the liner under the enormous waste cell has not been punctured. If the plastic membrane needs to be replaced, it's anybody's guess.
What is not being much reported is the fact that on January 10, 2011, Hawai`i State Department of Health officials had been warned about just such a catastrophe by respected radio talk show host and long-time environmental advocate, Carroll Cox. View Cox' first-hand story, "Needles and Other Nonsense: Medical Waste Pollutes Ocean By Ko Olina Resort" and the related photos at http://carrollcox.com/WaimanaloGulchSpill.htm .