Toxic chemicals halt Radford High track renovation

Construction crews dug up a potential danger zone at Radford High School.

A $2.26 million project to install an all-weather track around the football field halted in December when toxic chemicals were found buried under the campus. Excavation work was suspended and the area was cordoned off.

“It’s covered,” said Radford High School principal James Sunday. “They have a process as to what they’re going to do to remove everything that’s harmful and they tested the upper campus and deemed everything is safe.”

According to Sunday, work began in December and the contaminants were discovered a couple of weeks later. The field has been covered for more than three months. The state says it took that long to get approvals for tests.

Results came back 30 times above the acceptable threshold for lead. The Dept. of Education says the soil under the school’s athletic field also tested positive for arsenic, cadmium and mercury. Soil tests were also done around the campus and at nearby Makalapa Elementary.

Both schools informed parents about the situation Tuesday in a letter sent home with students.

Health officials say, based on the test results, there is no public health risk.

“We can confirm that the lead contamination is limited to the track and field area,” said Gary Gill, deputy director for environmental health. “There’s no exposure to any high levels of chemical or metal of concern throughout the rest of those campuses.”

The health department says the levels for lead were the highest. With a threshold level of 200 parts per million, the baseball field near the track had a reading of 235. The soccer field at Makalapa Elementary was 169. The state says because these levels are two to three feet below the surface, these levels are safe.

A soil expert with the University of Hawaii’s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources confirms it. “Unless you actually go down there and dig it up and bring it up, it will probably just stay where it is,” said Ray Uchida.

But the level of lead when it was initially discovered was much higher at the track with a reading of over 6,000. Uchida says the level is definitely concerning. “I would be concerned with it because you don’t know what might happen if you scrape it off, but it won’t move upward,” he said.

The state says because the chemicals were two to three feet underneath the surface, there were no dangerous levels of exposure.

The Dept. of Health says the field was built on top of an old Navy landfill. It’s likely the debris originated from past Navy disposal of construction wastes and material dredged between the 1930s and 1970s, according to a preliminary Navy assessment.

The Navy will have to clean it all up before construction can resume.

“The Navy is wholly committed to taking immediate action and remediate this site in accordance with all federal and state regulations,” said Commanding Officer Naval Facilities Engineering Command Hawaii Capt. Michael Williamson. “We have the technical expertise and have demonstrated our capability to regulatory agencies and the public in the past. This historic Navy debris that was discovered will be removed quickly and we will ensure that DOE can safely proceed with construction of the new track.”

Sunday says the school has already made plans to have football games and track meets away this coming school year.

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