U.S. Navy Fuel Tanks Leak Into Oahu Drinking Water

HONOLULU, Hawaii, December 9, 2021 (ENS) – Hawaii’s entire Congressional delegation is calling on Governor David Ige to request that President Joe Biden declare an emergency and direct the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to step in and assist with a water contamination crisis on Oahu.

On Monday, the Hawaii Department of Health, DOH, ordered the U.S. Navy to suspend operations at its underground Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, take measures to treat contaminated drinking water at the Red Hill shaft and safely remove fuel from the 20 underground storage tanks at Red Hill after the facility was suspected as the source of fuel in residents’ drinking water.

The polluted water crisis has forced more than 700 people from their homes. Families have reported vomiting, skin burning, intense headaches, diarrhea and a strong odor of fuel.

The problem was first reported Sunday, November 28, when the DOH was notified that Navy water system users on Oahu reported fuel-like odors in their tap water. The DOH has received more than 500 complaints to date, and the drinking water has tested positive for petroleum components.

The Navy has agreed to pause all operations at its Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage facility until an investigation into the source of petroleum in drinking water at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam is completed.

Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said in a statement Wednesday that he directed the pause with the intention that “this never happens again.”

Nine of the 20 steel and concrete-lined fuel tanks at the underground Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility (Screengrab from a video by University of Hawaii and the U.S. Navy)

The Navy previously had said it would contest the order to suspend operations at the site from the Hawaii Department of Health, but did not explain why.

The order also includes the continued isolation of the Red Hill and Halawa wells operated by the Navy until the water distribution main and all affected homes and buildings have been flushed or isolated, tested, and can be supplied with water that meets EPA drinking water standards.

The Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility is located 100 feet above the Red Hill aquifer, which supplies drinking water to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and also to a majority of residents on Oahu. The fuel storage facility was built during World War II and can store up to 250 million gallons of fuel, according to the Navy.

The fuel in the steel-lined tanks is used by the U.S. Air Force, Army, Marines, Navy, Coast Guard and Hawaii National Guard for ships and aircraft. The Navy has said that Red Hill is vital to maritime security, regional stability, humanitarian assistance and continued prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region.

For a video about the construction, features and maintenance of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage tanks from the university of Hawaii in cooperation with the Navy, click here.

“I appreciate the Navy’s announcement that it has temporarily suspended its fuel operations at Red Hill. Hawaii’s wellbeing and the safety of our residents, including military families, must come first. We cannot have national security without ensuring public health and safety,” said Governor Ige.

“There are still really important questions that need to be answered and the Order being issued by the Department of Health will help all parties get there. We are actively engaged in getting to the bottom of the issue as quickly as possible and as safely as possible,” Governor Ige said.

“The Department of Health is taking action to fulfill our mission of protecting human health and the environment,” said Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char. “The Navy’s contamination of drinking water has impacted all Oahu residents – military and civilian – and we must take appropriate steps to safeguard the drinking water we all share as a community.”

The Sierra Club of Hawaii says it has been warning about this problem for a long time. “The lack of common sense, the denial of reality, the dismissal of real concerns, and the lack of a plan to respond to water contamination on the part of local Navy leadership is exactly what we have been warning about for years,” the group said in a statement.

“This whole week – while actually poisoning people – these leaders have scrambled and gaslighted the situation rather than admit their obvious shortcomings. We cannot let this become a harbinger of things to come, of a new normal for hundreds of thousands of additional Oahu residents if and when another major leak, or worse, befalls the Red Hill fuel tanks,” the Sierra Club said, while demanding that “the tanks be shut down permanently and the fuel immediately relocated away from the aquifer.”

Featured image: The 20 steel and concrete-lined fuel storage tanks buried more than 100 feet underground at Red Hill Bulk Fuel storage facility are checked and monitored frequently. Authorities still don’t know the cause of the leak or leaks from the tanks into the aquifer used for drinking water. (Screengrab from video by the University of Hawaii and the U.S. Navy)

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