Asbestos found at War Memorial

LIHUE — Asbestos has been found in the tile flooring of the Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall entrance.

That determination comes from the Department of Health, which inspected the area in November after an employee brought it to the department’s attention.

But the chance of anyone being exposed to it is low, so it’s not necessary to close it, said Lenny Rapozo, director of the Department of Parks and Recreation.

“I go by what DOH tells me. They said it’s OK to use the hall as usual,” he said.

Charles Rapozo, who has been cleaning the hall’s floors for 18 years, said he became concerned about asbestos over a decade ago when people came to him with concerns about the conditions of the tiles.

“I assumed it wasn’t a big thing because I figured they would tell us if there was asbestos in the building,” he said.

Over the years, Rapozo’s suspicions grew. And in October, he sent pieces of the tile to a lab in Oahu.

“I went ahead and did the testing myself. I feared for my safety and the public’s safety. I see kids crawling on the ground of the hall,” he said. “When the test came back positive, I was hoping and praying I did it wrong.”

He contacted DOH, which came to Kauai a few days later to do an inspection.

DOH did not respond to requests for comment before press time.

But in a letter to Rapozo, DOH representatives said that until it is proven that asbestos is not in the floor, it needs to be treated as if it is.

Rapozo took the findings and the DOH letter to Mel Rapozo, council chair.

After that meeting, Mel Rapozo sent a memo to Lenny Rapozo to provide a briefing about the situation.

“I’m very concerned about what’s going on in the convention hall,” Mel Rapozo said. “It’s heavily used, and I just want to make sure the public is aware. I have yet to see a public warning.”

The county requested that representatives from the DOH come in two weeks to give a briefing on the hall.

“We need to get an update on whether or not we need to shut it down immediately,” said Councilman Ross Kagawa.

On Wednesday, Lenny Rapozo appeared before the Public Works/Parks and Recreation Committee to talk about the remediation plan.

It will cost $450,000 to replace the tile flooring. The department will submit a budget request before the end of the fiscal year, and the work will begin next January, he said.

Flooring in the lobby, exhibit hall, conference room, restroom and storage area will all be replaced, Lenny Rapozo said.

Asbestos is a commercial name given to six naturally occurring fibrous minerals, according to the Center for Disease Control. While these minerals have been used for decades in products such as insulation, textiles and wallboard materials, the CDC says people chronically exposed to asbestos have developed diseases including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma.

The county is also working on an asbestos management plan to address training requirements for maintenance personnel, guidance for acceptable procedures and recommendation for periodic inspection. An asbestos awareness training course will also be offered.

Mel Rapozo it is important to take care of the issue sooner rather than later.

“I would like to err on the side of caution,” he said.

“We’ve fixed sound systems, chairs, A/C. We’ve spent hundreds of thousands on the convention hall, but we never touched what needed to be touched — the floor,” he said.

Ben Smart, who works at the convention hall, said he didn’t know anything about asbestos in the building.

“I was helping my co-worker, cleaning the floor, doing mechanical buffing. Nothing was said about using a mask,” he said. “As far as I know, any asbestos is a danger.”

Faith Rapozo, Charles Rapozo’s daughter, said she’s alarmed by what’s happened at the center.

“He’s been working there for years, on the floor, buffing it and cleaning it. He’s in that place for hours,” she said. “Hearing about how deadly this can be, I need my dad. Please take action.”

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