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Red Hill defueling on pause while Navy cleans up toxic fire suppressant spill

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Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christopher Thomas
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U.S. Navy
A temporary staging area for aqueous film-forming foam recovery at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.

Defueling of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility remains on pause as the Navy cleans up a separate toxic spill from earlier this week.

About 1,100 gallons of toxic fire-suppression foam leaked at the facility Tuesday. The foam, known as Aqueous Film Forming Foam, is considered a “forever chemical” that does not break down naturally.

The U.S. Navy and the state Department of Health insist that drinking water remains safe.

An unknown pump activation caused the leak, and an investigation is ongoing into how this happened. Rear Admiral Stephen Barnett is the commander of Navy Region Hawaiʻi. He says a crew is excavating dirt and concrete from the area to prevent the foam from leaking into municipal water.

"Given the size of this release and distance from the nearest active water well, it is unlikely that the release will affect the drinking water or the aquifer," Barnett said. The Navy is currently pulling water from the Waiawa Shaft, which is about 5 miles from Red Hill, which sits about 100 feet above the island's aquifer.

The Red Hill Shaft has been closed down since November 2021, when a different leak contaminated the Navy's water distribution system.

In a separate press conference Wednesday, Honolulu Board of Water Supply chief engineer Ernie Lau demanded the Navy work faster to remove the 104 million gallons of fuel that still remain at the Red Hill facility.

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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