Lihu‘e Industrial Park II evacuated after bad valve causes chemical leak

A chemical leak in a Lihu‘e warehouse yesterday morning led to the evacuation of all businesses in Lihu‘e Industrial Park II.

A press release from Mayor Bryan Baptiste’s office said the leak occurred around 8:30 a.m. when an employee of Trex Hawai‘i was transferring methyltrichlorosilane from a storage tank to a process tank in the company’s Aukele Street warehouse.

In the press release, Dave Kane, vice president of Kaua‘i operations for Trex Hawai‘i, says the tank sprang a leak due a faulty valve on the storage tank.

The employee, who was wearing protective gear and was not harmed, exited the bunker and closed the door immediately after the incident, Kane says.

“When you’re dealing with hazardous chemicals, you have to been very careful in how you proceed after an incident of this nature,” Kaua‘i Fire Department Battalion Chief Sean Hosaka states in the release. “Evacuating the affected area is part of the standard procedure.”

Following the 8:32 a.m. arrival of the initial response team, an incident command was set up near the scene with Hosaka in charge of the operations.

Five Hazardous Material technicians and several firefighters from around the island were among the first on the scene, the release states.

A state health official was also at the scene.

“You need a lot of people to deal with all the different aspects of the incident,” Hosaka says.

Officials from the mayor’s office said shortly after 11 a.m., a team of Hazmat technicians entered the bunker and sprayed foam in the structure to prevent vapors from escaping.

At around 2 p.m., Hazmat technicians ran tests to determine the flammability and health hazards in three different areas of the warehouse. Less than an hour later, fire department officials deemed it safe for Trex officials to enter the warehouse and assume responsibility of the situation.

Dr. John Bowen, a Hazmat expert from the Big Island, and officials from PENCO, an O‘ahu-based environmental cleanup firm, arrived on scene yesterday evening to handle the neutralization of the hazardous material.

Lihu‘e Industrial Park II was still closed at press time, and county public information officer Mary Daubert said it will remain closed until it is safe for the public to return.

At the time of the spill, many area business owners had no idea what was going on.

“We don’t know what happened,” said Carla Matsushima, sales manager at Kuhio Motors said. “All we know was that we had to leave.”

Kaua‘i Police Department set up a roadblock at the Kapule Highway intersection to keep visitors and motorists out of the affected area.

“You could see them in the Hazmat suits almost all morning,” said a Gaspro staff member. “They had the green ones, the blue ones and the white ones.”

As a major point of entry for imported foods, the lock-down wreaked havoc with local restaurant owners as well. Koa Trading, Kaua‘i Growers Exchange and a fish wholesaler were all closed because of the evacuation.

“There’s a lot of not-so-happy people out there,” said a Hopaco Warehouse Direct employee. “They’re all trying to get to Koa Trading for their food.

They’re from the restaurants, and a lot of them have to get stuff for this weekend.”

By 12:30 p.m., four hours after the area was closed off, police officers were still on duty turning people away, but the Hazmat team appeared to be packing up.

“I guess it must be all right since they don’t have the suits on,” the Gaspro employee said. “They’re just washing down the equipment.”

For several hours, people parked at Kuhio Motors to watch the scene.

• Dennis Fujimoto, photographer and staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 253) or dfujimoto@kauaipubco.com.

Ford Gunter, associate editor, may be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or fgunter@kauaipubco.com.

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