The US Environmental Protection Agency started work on commercial property zones to remove hazardous materials in Lahaina, Maui.
“The work is not done, but the completion of EPA’s Phase I work is in sight. We will continue steady and strong until our mission is complete,” said EPA Incident Commander Tara Fitzgerald. “We have started work on the most technically difficult properties, which signal a near transition to the Army Corps work of removing all remaining debris on properties.”
Representatives with the EPA say commercial properties present unique size, safety, and increased hazardous materials diversity that extend work times on these properties.
EPA prioritized residential properties to allow local residents to visit their properties as soon as possible after it reduced risks presented by hazardous materials. Removal of hazardous materials can occur on commercial properties that have been identified as not having a risk for the field workers.
The risks include unstable structures, collapsed roofs or other physical hazards. Commercial properties that cannot be addressed during this phase will be addressed in the second phase. The larger size of the properties and the increased likelihood of finding more diverse hazardous materials makes this work more technically difficult, according to the EPA.
Controlling the spread of ash and debris remains a focus of EPA teams. The agency continues to apply soil stabilizer to the ash footprint on all impacted properties in Lahaina (excluding areas of cultural significance) to protect human health and the environment. The stabilizer helps prevent toxic ash and debris from entering the air, nearby properties, waterways and the ocean.
EPA teams also continue to identify, transport, and safely dispose of lithium-ion batteries used in electric and hybrid vehicles, charging stations and solar power systems. Fire-damaged lithium-ion batteries need to be recovered with specific care, de-energized and disposed of properly.
A common question from community members regards the safety of multistory apartment buildings. Due to the number of layered debris and the difficulty of safely entering and operating within these properties, EPA teams did not begin these hazardous material assessments until this week. It is likely that most of the hazardous waste recovery work will be deferred to the second phase of debris removal.
EPA has removed 90% of hazardous materials from burned residential and commercial properties in Lahaina. The milestone signals the agency is drawing closer to completing its Federal Emergency Management Agency assigned mission – the first phase of the overall federal cleanup response to the Maui Wildfires.
The updated completion percentage includes a change in the total number of parcels to be cleared by the EPA from 1,601 to 1,620. That change is a normal part of any EPA response process as the agency gets closer to the end of major parcel assessments. During this stage, teams can view smaller areas adjacent to areas being assessed. These small areas were not previously identified during the initial collection of potential properties through remote sensing, but important as they may contain burned sheds or electric vehicles that are revealed when in the field.
EPA staff are conducting outreach efforts across Maui, fielding questions, and providing information to community members about the Phase I Hazardous Materials removal work. The outreach teams operate rotationally at the Disaster Recovery Center located in the Lahaina Civic Center, Nāpili Park Emergency Resource Hub in Lahaina, Maui Mall Village in Kahului, and the Maui County building in Wailuku.
EPA coordinates with the County of Maui as parcels are cleared. This enables to county to accurately manage its reentry plans. EPA encourages residents with questions about reentry to visit the Maui Recovers website.