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Hawaiʻi Department of Health moves to long-term phase of remediating Red Hill water shaft

Kathleen Hicks tours Navy Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility
Staff Sgt. Brittany Chase/Office of the Secretary of Defense
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Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks tours Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility with senior Naval leadership on Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi, Dec. 14, 2021. (DoD photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Brittany A. Chase)

It’s been about a week since the Department of Health gave the all-clear for homes and businesses on the military’s water system. Experts are now dealing with the long-term phase of remediating the Red Hill water shaft.

Water continues to be siphoned from the contaminated shaft, and treated water is being released into the Halawa Stream which feeds into Pearl Harbor.

There are also plans to drill additional wells to assist with detecting plumes in the water.

Deputy Environmental Health Director Kathleen Ho says the department is prepared to respond quickly to community complaints.

"We've set up a mechanism in which military families can call into the Department of Health or email the Department of Health their concerns," she said. "There is a rapid response team to go out to the various homes who have various complaints about their drinking water system and are prepared to take samples."

"We are the regulators and we will ensure that the distribution system is going to be protective of public health and the environment, in addition to the defueling and the aquifer recovery," Ho told The Conversation.

Ho said the estimated cost of the department's response from the beginning of the water crisis to June 30 will be approximately $4.5 million.

"But we are asking the legislators for $1.5 million in an emergency appropriation because that is the amount that we have received bills for," Ho said.

"The military has said that they would reimburse us, but we don't have an agreement to do that. We do have our law, which allows the Department of Health to seek cost reimbursement to the responsible party for all of our costs," she told The Conversation. "We fully anticipate that they will reimburse us for our costs. But if they don't, I am prepared to bring an action to seek reimbursement for our costs in accordance with our law."

Contact DOH’s Safe Water Drinking Branch at 808-586-4258 or SDWB@doh.hawaii.gov. This interview aired on The Conversation on March 24, 2022. The Conversation airs weekdays at 11 a.m. on HPR-1.

Catherine Cruz is the host of The Conversation. Originally from Guam, she spent more than 30 years at KITV, covering beats from government to education. Contact her at ccruz@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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