PVT landfill: Nanakuli residents say big business is trumping their basic health concerns

Residents ask why the Department of Health is promoting business over public safety

Samson Kaala Reiny

WAIANAE—Nanakuli residents testified en masse Thursday night at the State Department of Health’s (DOH) public review and comment meeting on the PVT Land Company’s permit, which is up for renewal.

In addition to continuing its disposal of liquid, construction, and demolition waste, including those contaminated with asbestos, the company is now applying to do reclamation work, which involves mining for previously disposed-of waste. PVT is currently operating under an administrative extension through the DOH until the department decides whether or not to renew the permit, which lasts five years.

Residents filled the Nanakuli cafeteria, and the vast majority testified adamantly against the permit extension because of its hazard to the nearby community. 

“Economics should never take precedence over human health,” said Nanakuli resident Roberta Searle. “Shame on you DOH.”

“It’s a travesty that we have to face a landfill that abuts our residents,” said Hanalei Aipoalani, who is vice-chair of the Nanakuli neighborhood board and notes that people are getting sick with respiratory illnesses. “We should move it to another location.”

“Economics should never take precedence over human health.”

Some criticized the informational session earlier in the evening, which included data suggesting the landfill posed no significant health risks.

“It’s the same here as in my hometown,” said Texas native Antonio Benadites, who claims a similar site was placed in Corpus Christi, where he’s from, and that people are now afflicted with illnesses. “They gave the same percentages they’re giving you ... they take this and say they did talk to the people, they analyzed the data.”

A few supported the permit extension and expansion. 

“It all begins with education,” said Jeanette Grace, who has visited the facility on several occasions. “I’m amazed because it’s so clean, so tidy.”

“If you haven’t been there, visit, take the tour before you make up your mind,” said George Grace, who believes people need to educate themselves on the matter, and that people are blaming their health problems unfairly on PVT.

But a resident said that their living right next to the landfill was enough education.

“I don’t have to visit, PVT visits me every day,” said Rose Woods, who says the company’s dust settles into her house daily. She was one of many residents who complained of dust accumulating in their homes, in their yards, and on their cars.

Woods also reacted strongly to two testimonials. Kevin Kondo, a spokesman for Honua Power, said the company supports PVT because it supports renewable energy. The firm is seeking to buy mined wood from PVT to create electricity, which it will then sell to Hawaiian Electric Company. 

Another, Cameron Black, a representative from the State Department of Business Economic Development and Tourism, said he supported renewable energy to decrease Hawaii’s oil independence.

“You have to look at the bigger picture,” Black said.

“The community should not have to pay for everyone else to benefit,” Woods responded. “The community should not have to bare the brunt of this responsibility.”

Others chastised Laurence Lau, Department of Health’s deputy director.

“What is the State motto, Mr. Lau?” asked Lori Ludlum, a Nanakuli Homestead Resident. “Is PVT preserving the land in righteousness?”

Ludlum also challenged the motives behind PVT’s outreach to the community, including its funding of scholarships at Nanakuli High School.

“They’re buying the community to kill us off slowly but surely,” she said, noting that her brother-in-law is recovering in the hospital from a bacterial infection she believes was caused by PVT’s dust.

Despite the public outcry, at least one member of the community believed that the DOH will only approve the permit anyway.

“They only came out to appease the public,” he said.

He said it took considerable effort just to convince the DOH to hold the meeting—the department was not required to do so. 

“[Senate President Colleen] Hanabusa’s office, [Waianae Rep.] Karen Awana, private citizens, especially Kimo Kelii, they all pressured the DOH and PVT to do this,” Aipoalani said. “It took about two and a half years.” 

The DOH is extending its deadline for written testimony until the end of the workday on September 7. They can be sent to: [email protected]

See the Hawaii Independent’s earlier coverage on PVT landfill here.