DOH orders Navy to empty Red Hill underground storage tanks, treat contaminated drinking water

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) on Monday announced that it is issuing an emergency order for the Navy to immediately suspend operations at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility that sits above an aquifer that supplies nearly 20% of Honolulu’s drinking water.

The order also directs the Navy to take corrective actions to treat the contaminated drinking water at the Red Hill drinking well and to safely remove fuel from the 20 underground storage tanks.

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“I appreciate the Navy’s announcement that it has temporarily suspended its fuel operations at Red Hill. Hawaii’s wellbeing and the safety of our residents, including military families, must come first. We cannot have national security without ensuring public health and safety,” Gov. David Ige said in a statement.

In addition to the immediate suspension of the Red Hill facility, the Navy is ordered to:

  • Submit a workplan and implementation schedule within 30 days, prepared by a qualified independent third party approved by DOH, to assess the operations and system integrity to safely defuel the Bulk Fuel Storage Tanks. Upon DOH’s approval of the assessment, workplan and implementation schedule, the Navy must make necessary corrective actions to address any deficiencies as expeditiously as possible.
  • Within 30 days of completion of required corrective actions, remove fuel from the Bulk Fuel Storage Tanks at the Red Hill facility.
  • Within 30 days of receipt of this EO submit a workplan and implementation schedule, prepared by a qualified independent third party approved by DOH, to assess operations and system integrity of the Red Hill facility to determine design and operational deficiencies that may impact the environment and develop recommendations for corrective action. Upon the Department’s approval, the Navy must perform work and implement corrective actions as expeditiously as possible.

The governor’s news conference follows the one held by the Secretary of the Navy and Chief of Naval Operations at the U.S. Pacific Fleet Headquarters earlier on Monday.

The Navy on Monday announced that it has suspended the use of the fuel tanks, although it did not commit to it being a permanent solution. The DOH says its emergency order ensures the suspension remains in place until independent evaluators can ensure that appropriate actions are taken to protect drinking water.

According to Rear Admiral Blake Converse, deputy commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, the use of the tank farm was suspended on Nov. 27. The DOH says it was notified that Oahu’s Navy water system users reported fuel-like odors in tap water, and it has received more than 500 complaints to date.

Last week, the Navy confirmed that it detected petroleum products in water samples taken from the Red Hill drinking water well, which serves about 93,000 people.

Hundreds of military families living near Pearl Harbor have complained of stomach pain, nausea and other health issues. There are even reports of pets being affected after drinking from the tap water.

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The DOH recommends users of the Navy’s Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPHH) water system to avoid using the water for drinking, cooking, or oral hygiene. If you detect a fuel-like odor from the water, avoid using the water for bathing, dishwashing or laundry. This recommendation applies to the Aliamanu Military Reservation, Red Hill and Nimitz Elementary Schools and military housing.

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