August 29, 2023

Hazardous material removal will set groundwork for Lahaina re-entry

Emphasizing that Maui County will prioritize the community – by weighing safety, cultural, environmental and resident interests – Mayor Richard Bissen announced today, Aug. 29, 2023, the transition from the search and recovery phase in Lahaina to the next phase, which will set the groundwork for residents and businesses to return to properties and workplaces.

“The county will champion the interest of our community, with safety, cultural and community priorities. And we will drive locally these steps as we move forward,” Mayor Bissen said at a Wailuku press conference with state and federal partners. “No one in our state has ever experienced the magnitude of this disaster and the degree of tragedy, therefore as we move through it, coordination with all county, state and federal agencies are occurring daily with my team.”

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) removal of hazardous material from Upcountry properties was completed over the weekend.

As the search and recovery effort is nearly complete in Lahaina, the EPA will begin work to remove and dispose of household hazardous material from properties affected by West Maui wildfires. This next phase is being coordinated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), with support from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

No debris removal will begin without the written consent of the property owner. A plan for residents to safely access their property is being developed.

Emergency Management Agency chief federal response coordinator Robert J. Fenton, Jr., said safety, along with permissions from property and business owners, are key.

“No removal will begin without the permission of the property owner,” he said. “To the affected residents, please know, we will work with you.”

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency incident commander Steve Calanog echoed what other agency leaders said – that Lahaina’s cultural significance will be respected in the process.

“We know the long rich and historic cultural significance of Lahaina,” he said. “We have 25 cultural observers on our team to ensure that we proceed with respect. We have a team on island now of about 150 people, 30 percent of which are local hires who we’ve trained in hazmat tech certifications.”

The work of removing household hazardous material from Lahaina will be done by EPA teams working in zones. At this time, the disaster area is restricted to authorized personnel only and there is no list allowing residents to return to the disaster area. Debris removal from properties will begin after the EPA has removed household hazardous materials from the affected area.

Household hazardous material being removed include paints, cleaners, solvents and oils. Fuel from pressurized cylinders and tanks will be removed as well. The EPA will have an electrician on-site to advise field teams on safely de-energizing and removing home “power bank” batteries. Following removal, the hazardous material will be shipped to the U.S. Mainland where it will be properly disposed of.

While performing this work, the EPA will monitor the air for fine particles of dust (“particulate matter”). The air monitors will be listed on EPA’s Air Now website. After household hazardous material is removed, the EPA may mist a fine adhesive called “Soiltac” on ash on the property. This will prevent ash from blowing off the property and limit runoff. The adhesive is non-toxic and biodegradable.

“Every step we take forward is a step with purpose, intent, and sensitivity,” said Darryl Oliveira, the interim administrator of the Maui Emergency Management Agency. “We’re calling the phase after the hazardous material removal phase, the “Return to Lahaina” phase. We really want to stress we want to get people back home.”

For information on the recovery efforts on Maui, please visit the Maui County Website or the Maui Nui Strong website.

For information on EPA beginning hazardous material removal today, visit the EPA news release.

The full video of Tuesday’s press conference can be found on the County of Maui Facebook page.

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