by Nancy Glover
Waimanalo residents are quite familiar with the aroma of an agricultural community. Depending on weather conditions, the air can be filled with the smell of animal manure or the fragrance of tuber rose fields. But back in April, an unusual strong and sour smell filled the air causing burning eyes, itchy skin, headaches, nausea and breathing difficulties to the residents surrounding the Unisyn plant. Residents affected by odors began to express their concerns by calling the staff at the Unisyn plant.
By July, when no relief was in sight, residents turned to the State Department of Health, Representative Eve Anderson, and the Waimanalo Neighborhood Board foe help. On July 28, the Department of Health ordered Unisyn "to resolve the odor nuisance problems within ten days or the facility shall cease receiving additional materials. Failure to implement the required action will result in violations. As you have been previously notified of your actions, the Department has some special concern that may result in a Notice of Violation shutting down all operations."
Unisyn finally begins to address community concerns. At a meeting between staff and community residents on August 2, Unisyn staff detailed the plant's operations and its efforts to address the odor problem. Community residents were told that mitigation efforts to control odors could be in place by August 8. The smell got worse.
The Department of Health steps in again and recommends that Unisyn get serious by hiring a well-known consulting firm on the mainland with experience in designing and building numerous odor control facilities. The Department of Health also informs Unisyn that they will be fined for odor violations, with the fines to be used for environmental programs in the community. Unisyn responds by hiring the recommended consultants. On August 23, the consultants propose a three phase plan to mitigate odors.
The first phase involves collecting air samples at several point sources for odor analysis for specific compounds. Hopefully, the analysis of specific compounds will provide the community with an answer to the looming question of health hazards associated with the gases emitted from Unisyn. The second phase, to be completed on October 9, includes installing biofilters--a short-term solution that will eliminate 90% of the odor problems. Phase three, to be completed by the end of October, will provide Unisyn with a long-term solution to the odor problems.
As a result of investigating the odor problems at Unisyn, other concerns regarding the operations at Unisyn have emerged. One such concern is the lack of appropriate controls to prevent surface and groundwater contamination. The Neighborhood Board has requested from Unisyn information regarding potential for water contamination. To date Unisyn has not provided a response to the community regarding these concerns. However the Department of Health is listening to community concerns and will incorporate, as deemed necessary, special conditions in Unisyn's operating permit to address these concerns. Other concerns seek to address whether the current operations at Unisyn are in appropriate or legal use of state agricultural lands, and why a City and County Conditional Use permit is not required for Unisyn to operate on agricultural zoned land.
An informational meeting will b held on Wednesday, October 4, at 6:30 pm in the Waimanalo Elementary and Intermediate School Cafeteria. For ore information on the meeting call Representative Eve Anderson at 586-8520.