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Board of Water Supply detects trace amounts of fuel in water but says it's still safe

Halawa Shaft 2019 board of water supply
Honolulu Board of Water Supply
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A look inside the Board of Water Supply's Halawa Shaft facility in 2019.

The Honolulu Board of Water Supply said Thursday it detected trace amounts of fuel in a groundwater monitoring well in Moanalua Valley.

The samples came from monitoring well DH-43, which sits about 1,500 feet from the Red Hill bulk storage facility.

BWS also found polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which naturally occur in oil and gasoline. It can occur from the burning of fuel, garbage or tobacco.

The water, BWS said, is still safe to drink and use because the levels were low.

“The PAHs detected were at very low levels and there is no current change in operations for BWS because of this detection,” BWS said in a release.

However, BWS Chief Engineer Ernie Lau said this detection cannot be ignored.

“This latest detection of PAH and TPH contamination in DH-43 significantly heightens the BWS’ concern that fuel contamination from the Red Hill facility is traveling through O‘ahu’s sole-source aquifer,” Lau said in a Thursday press release.

Earlier this summer, Lau expressed concern that fuel from the U.S. Navy's Red Hill facility that leaked last November may be flowing toward the county's water supply. As a result of last year's contamination, the BWS closed its Halawa Shaft, Aiea Wells and Halawa Wells.

“Our precious and irreplaceable water resources are at risk of further contamination every day the fuel remains in the Red Hill tanks,” Lau said. “We urge the Navy to expeditiously defuel and permanently close the Red Hill facility – Ola I Ka Wai.”

In a statement, state Department of Health Deputy Director of Environmental Health Kathleen Ho said more data is needed to determine if this is connected to the Red Hill contamination last year.

“We appreciate the Board of Water Supply’s work to fulfill our shared mission to protect public health and the environment,” Ho said. “While this datapoint warrants further investigation, more data is needed from BWS’ monitoring wells before we can determine if this detection is related to the Red Hill contamination. We are committed to continued collaboration.”

Ho shared Lau’s concern. Both the DOH and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are reviewing the samples.

“The fuel in the Red Hill tanks continues to pose a threat to our water resources — we need the Navy to feel the same sense of urgency that we do to safely defuel and decommission Red Hill,” she said.

This comes just days after a University of Hawai’i Red Hill Task Force released — and retracted — data consistent with a low concentration of jet fuel contamination on the Navy’s water system, which a team of lawyers is pointing to as a reason for residents on the system to be evacuated.

Sabrina Bodon is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Contact her at sbodon@hawaiipublicradio.org or 808-792-8252.
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