HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Hawai’i Department of Health announced that it is investigating the spillage of approximately 1,100 gallons of a fire suppressant material, Aqueous Film Forming Foam.

Strong reaction from the head of the Board of Water Supply after the Navy revealed that 1,100 gallons of toxic fire suppressant foam spilled Tuesday at the Red Hill Fuel Storage facility.

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BWS said it wants the Navy to start doing weekly testing for dangerous chemicals immediately.

Chief Engineer Ernie Lau was holding back tears at Wednesday’s news conference. He said he couldn’t sleep the night before because it was almost as if he could hear the aquifers crying out.

“Not a literal scream or cry but in my mind, it almost felt like I heard a scream or cry of our aquifers crying out no more contamination,” he said.

“This is egregious. AFFF contains PFAS forever chemicals—groundwater contamination could be devastating to our aquifer. While details are limited at this time, the Joint Task Force and Navy need to be transparent about how this happened,” said Kathleen Ho, Deputy Director of Environmental Health.”

According to the DOH, they were notified at around 3 p.m. of the spillage that took place at the Red Hill facility and into the facility near Adit 6. No groundwater was impacted, and the spill is in the process of being rectified.

“Regulators will hold the Department of Defense accountable and will press the operator to take any and all appropriate corrective action throughout the defueling and decommissioning process,” added Ho.  

The Navy said the spill involved 1,100 gallons of fire suppressant foam, which contains PFAS known as forever chemicals that can cause cancer. Both the Navy and the Department of Health said it has not gone into the drinking water system.

“As you recall, the Red Hill Shaft has been disconnected for the past year. It is not supplying drinking water to the Navy water distribution system,” said Rear Adm. Stephen Barnett, commander of Navy Region Hawaii.

But Lau wants to make absolutely sure.

“And I hope the Navy would consider. I don’t hope I demand of the Navy to move faster. The AFFF systems only exist because there’s still petroleum stored there,” he said.

Lau has sent a letter to the Navy, the health department, and the EPA demanding that weekly testing be done immediately at the surrounding testing wells and that data be shared with the different agencies including BWS.

The Navy said it’s willing to work with all the agencies. Right now the focus is figuring out how the spill occurred. The Navy said a contractor was doing maintenance work on the fire suppressant system.

“For whatever reason, again, from what we know and what we don’t know, while they’re doing the maintenance. We don’t know if it’s a contributing factor or not, we had this incident,” said Rear Adm. John Wade, commander of Joint Task Force Red Hill.

The Honolulu Fire Department also uses foam to put out fires but BWS points out it’s different and does not contain toxic chemicals.

Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam responded to the spill stating that they discovered it at around 1 p.m. and said that the spill is near the top of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility and has nothing to do with the defueling process.

“Given the size of the release and the distance from the nearest active water well, our initial assessment is that it is unlikely to affect the drinking water or the aquifer. The nearest well is the Red Hill shaft, approximately one mile away,” according to JBPHH.

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The DOH said that AFFF C6, the fire suppressant used at Red Hill, contains per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances that very slow to biodegrade and can have harmful effects on humans, animals and the environment.