Arsenic cleanup plan pending for Hilo site

  • HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald file photo The property at the intersection of Kekuanaoa and Mililani streets contains arsenic.

The public comment period for arsenic cleanup plans at a Hilo commercial property has ended.

The property, at the intersection of Kekuanaoa and Mililani streets near Waiakea Villas condominiums, is the site of a former building materials production plant. It currently is owned by a trust created by David De Luz Sr., owner of Big Island Toyota.


His son, David De Luz Jr., said Monday he was unable to comment about the potential sale and development of the property.

The state will publish a final “cleanup action plan” within a couple of weeks, said John Peard, remediation project manager for Hazard Evaluation and Emergency Response, a division of the state Department of Health.

That final plan will include questions raised by concerned residents about the cleanup, responses to those concerns and any potential measures the state will require as part of the cleanup.

“Based on that final document, the prospective purchaser was going to make a decision on whether they want to move forward,” Peard said. He said he’s hopeful because the plan looks doable.

No building permit requests for the site had been filed with the county as of early this week.

In addition to purchasing the land itself, a “significant” portion of the cost for the developer, Peard said, will be soil removal, filling, grading and getting the site ready to build at street level.

He said some soil with lower contamination levels will be left in place and covered with “geotextile” material labeled as a contaminated-soil covering.

That geotextile will be topped with soil that’s not contaminated, pavement, buildings and/or shallow-rooted landscaping.

No residential development will be allowed unless additional remediation of arsenic contamination takes place.

As the cleanup plan stands, it will be safe for commercial development.

Arsenic does not leach out of soil, Peard said, which is why the soil with highest contamination can be placed in a landfill in West Hawaii long term.

Once it’s placed there, it will not contaminate groundwater or nearby soils, he said.

The danger with arsenic, Peard said, is when it gets accidentally ingested, such as when a child plays in the soil and some gets in their mouth.

“What we’re worried about is the same kid going out every day in his back yard for six years,” Peard said. Arsenic exposure can cause problems such as cancer, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea and impaired nerve function, according to the Department of Health.

The prospective purchaser of the arsenic-contaminated property remains unnamed, Peard said. That’s because the sale remains tentative, pending state approval of the arsenic cleanup plan.

If the property is sold, cleanup likely will commence soon after the title changes hands.

The property is zoned commercial, meaning a retail outlet or hotel could be constructed, but Peard said a hotel is unlikely.

If the property is purchased from the De Luz trust, the buyer would have to remove about 200 truckloads of highly contaminated arsenic-laced soil before any construction could begin.

“That’s a lot of soil,” Peard said.

The property was the site where Hawaiian Cane Products Ltd. produced canec, fiberboard made from sugar-cane bagasse, the fiber remaining after juice is extracted from the cane. The production plant was sold in 1948 to Flintkote Co. and continued operating until 1960.


Arsenic was included in the fiberboard to protect homes and businesses from termites. Sugar cane plantations also used it to spray for weeds around buildings and ditches, Peard said. Most homes and businesses built before 1960 probably contain canec, he said.

Email Jeff Hansel at jhansel@hawaiitribune-herald.com.