City confirms asbestos found in Kailua sinkhole

Local News

HONOLULU (KHON2) –The city confirms asbestos has been found in a Kailua sinkhole that opened up in 2018. The city said they are not sure if anyone was exposed. The discovery raises health concerns and will prolong the project, which has already taken at least a year and a half longer than originally expected.

When the sinkhole in the Kailua Bluffs area opened up in October 2018, it was roughly 15-feet-wide and between 12 to 15 feet deep. The sidewalk and the shoulder of Kanapuu Drive near Kahako Street collapsed.

At the time, Robert Kroning, director of the city’s Department of Design and Construction, estimated it would take between one to four months to fix the 12-foot-wide, corrugated, metal drainage pipe that broke, which caused the road to collapse.

The pipe was installed in the 1970s and had corroded over the years.

Twenty months later, the area looks much different. It’s turned into a construction site encompassing roughly 40 yards of Kanapuu Drive with cranes and excavators parked on site. Fences and barriers put up to keep people out of the area. The sinkhole has expanded into a 20-foot-wide gulch that stretches from one end of Kanapuu Drive to the other, re-enforced by metal concrete barriers and wooden planks, exposing the drainage pipe below.

During the March Kailua neighborhood board meeting, the city said the project was on schedule to be completed this July.

That was before asbestos was found in the pipe lining.

Kailua Neighborhood Board Chair Bill Hicks was shocked at the news.

“This could be a huge health issue and impact on the project conversely.”

The city spokesperson said that a sample of the pipe was taken June 15. Three days later, results came back positive for asbestos.

“You would think that environmental testing on the project would be one of the very first steps,” Hicks said.

KHON asked the city why the pipe wasn’t tested for the presence of asbestos or any other harmful materials before work started?

They city’s response:

“The work prior to testing was limited to pouring concrete over the bottom of the pipe. Testing was done prior to work to remove the portion of the pipe that needs to be removed.”

According to the city, they need to remove 100 linear feet of pipe. It’s the same pipe that broke back in 2018 that caused the sinkhole in the first place.

The city said the pipe has not been removed or disturbed, but contractors have “stabilized the site with sheet-piles and excavated to expose the pipe for removal.”

Still, Hicks is concerned since construction has been going on for so long.

“Over the course of 20 months, undoubtedly, in that long time span, workers have been down in that hole and probably in close proximity. If asbestos is sealed in lining that is still intact, it may or may not be much of a hazard. But if it’s broken, since that pipe collapsed they probably are broken sections, it would be a huge concern if there have been workers down there for 20 months and it’s only now being discovered,” Hicks said.

Hicks hopes the city will give them a comprehensive assessment of what the risks currently are and have been since the sinkhole occurred.

“In an outdoor environment if the pipe lining is left undisturbed, it might not be a hazard. But who knows. The city has to make a definitive determination.”

The city said the contractor is working with an abatement subcontractor to develop a removal plan and schedule. They are unsure how long it will take or how much more it will cost at this time.

Hicks is hoping the city will provide more information during the next Kailua neighborhood board meeting scheduled Thursday, July 2.

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