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Governor, congressional delegation call for immediate suspension of Red Hill fuel storage operations

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US Navy Region Hawaii
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Gov. David Ige and Hawaiʻi’s entire congressional delegation agree that operations at the Red Hill fuel site should be suspended immediately.

They issued a blistering public statement late Sunday to the Secretary of the Navy, who has just arrived on Oʻahu.

The two-sentence release said, “Test results confirming contamination of drinking water at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam show that the Navy is not effectively operating the World War II-era facility and protecting the health and safety of the people of Hawaiʻi.”

It went on to say, “We are calling for the Navy to immediately suspend operations at Red Hill while they confront and remedy this crisis.”

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro is in Honolulu for Tuesday’s ceremonies marking the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Red Hill crisis has now moved to the top of his local agenda.

The congressional delegation separately urged Ige to request an emergency declaration from President Joe Biden due to the Navy's contaminated water system near Pearl Harbor.

U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz and U.S. Reps. Ed Case and Kai Kahele said the emergency declaration would give the state resources to help residents affected by petroleum in their water.

Last week, the Navy said it detected petroleum products in the Red Hill well. Rear Adm. Blake Converse said the Navy took the well offline on Nov. 28 because it was the closest well to affected housing areas.

Converse said the Navy will flush clean water through its distribution system to clear residual petroleum products from the water. The process, followed by testing to make sure the water meets Environmental Protection Agency drinking standards, could take four to 10 days, he said.

Hawaiʻi military households have complained about their tap water smelling like fuel, or of physical ailments like stomach cramps and vomiting. The Navy water system serves 93,000 people.

The Hawaiʻi Department of Health recommends Navy water system users should avoid using the water for drinking, cooking, or oral hygiene. Those who detect a fuel-like odor from their water should further avoid using the water for bathing, dishwashing, or laundry.

Amid the continuing crisis, the Honolulu Board of Water Supply shut off one of its wells so the Navy system doesn’t taint its own supply with petroleum from an underground aquifer it shares with the military. The BWS said its water system is separate from the Navy and it is not receiving similar complaints.

Board of Water Supply Manager and Chief Engineer Ernest Lau said the source of contamination is likely the Navy Red Hill Fuel Storage Facility system.

The shared aquifer sits about 100 feet underneath the Red Hill fuel tanks.

Converse said at a Sunday town hall meeting that a recent spill was likely the source of the contamination found in the well, Honolulu Civil Beat reports.

"The most likely place where it came from was fuel oil from a recent incident,” he told Civil Beat, adding that it could be the Nov. 20 release or the one that happened on May 6. “We’re trying to distinguish which that is.”

The most recent leak from the Red Hill Fuel Storage Facility occurred last month. The Navy said on Nov. 22 that a water and fuel mixture had leaked into a fire suppression system drain line in a tunnel. The Navy said it removed about 14,000 gallons of the mixture, and previously said the liquid hadn’t leaked into the environment.

In May 2021, about 1,600 gallons of fuel leaked into the Red Hill facility. In 2014, 27,000 gallons of fuel leaked from one of the tanks.

Bill Dorman has been the news director at Hawaiʻi Public Radio since 2011.
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