The Maui News

Mayor Richard Bissen has approved the use of a soil stabilizer on fire-damaged properties in Lahaina to prevent ash and soot from becoming airborne and running off into the ocean, nearby streams or onto surrounding properties.

The application of Soiltac will begin as early as next week for properties in the reentry zones and extend to remaining impacted areas.

The product has already been used on fire-damaged properties in Kula.

“It’s important to protect our community and our air quality and ocean waters from the harm that ash and debris may bring,” Bissen said in a news release Monday evening. “With EPA’s (Environmental Protection Agency’s) review of the product and its recommendation, along with understanding if we do nothing we will be placing our people and environment at risk, we will proceed with the application of a soil stabilization product.”

According to the website of manufacturer Soilworks, Soiltac is a polymer product used to control dust; once sprayed over surfaces, the molecules coalesce and create a durable surface crust.

A county news release said Monday that the nontoxic liquid will help prevent ash and dust, as well as microplastics from burned plastic materials that are in the ash, from migrating into the environment.

Bissen’s approval comes as some raised concerns about the soil stabilizer product at a meeting of the Maui County Council’s Disaster, Resilience, International Affairs and Planning Committee last week.

Robin Knox, an environmental scientist in Kihei, told the committee during public testimony that she contacted the EPA, which said it reviewed the materials the soil stabilizer was made out of and did not have concerns, but that they could not tell her what the materials were because that is confidential business information.

But Knox also told the committee that “impacts from (ash) not being contained or controlled would be worse more likely than trying to control it.”

Craig Downs, the executive director of Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Virginia, questioned the product’s components.

“Is this the safest and best product we can use as a dust suppressant?” asked Downs, who has helped guide the council on past legislation to regulate reef-damaging sunscreen.

Tara Fitzgerald, EPA’s deputy incident commander for the fires, said at the meeting that the EPA has evaluated various soil stabilizers and that “Soiltac came out as the frontrunner.”

Chad Falkenberg, CEO and chairman of Soilworks, which manufactures Soiltac, told committee members that the product has been tested and every ingredient has been “fully disclosed to the EPA.”

Falkenberg said people may have been looking up wrong products and getting incorrect information.

He said the product Soiltac that is being used is in liquid form. The company also makes a powdered version, which is completely different.

During tests on the liquid form that included measuring its impact to aquatic life, “it passed with flying colors,” Falkenberg said.

The EPA said it has determined that Soiltac is nontoxic, but it is not biodegradable. The agency says it will not harm wildlife nor will it negatively affect the environment.

“Any potential environmental concerns from the use of a non-toxic soil stabilizer will be vastly outweighed by the benefits of preventing dust and ash from dispersing in the environment,” the EPA said in a fact sheet.

In an abundance of caution, the Maui Humane Society and the EPA are working together in Lahaina to ensure that all the cat feeding stations are protected throughout the process of the soil stabilizer application, according to a news release Tuesday evening.

“We have provided the exact GPS locations of all 75+ cat feeding stations to the EPA so that their food and water is protected,” said Lisa Labrecque, CEO of Maui Humane Society. “In the long run, stabilizing the soil will provide a healthier environment for the cats as toxic contaminants are contained and removed.”

MHS has been assured that the daytime application process and presence of trucks/machinery dispensing the product will serve as a deterrent to cats.

Maui Humane Society estimates that between 250 to 400 cats remain in the burn zone, with cats being trapped and removed daily.

The EPA will apply the soil stabilizer to the ash and debris footprints of buildings in Lahaina in coordination with county emergency management officials.

The product will be removed during the debris removal process conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Due to risk of potential runoff into ocean waters, areas in close proximity to shorelines will be prioritized, the county said.

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* Staff Writer Melissa Tanji can be reached at [email protected].