Navy has no leak detection system, health dept. says

There are still concerns — and even some confusion — about what exactly may have happened with the Navy’s fuel storage facility at Red Hill.

After a closed door meeting with the Navy on Thursday, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, with Navy Admiral Rick Williams standing by his side, assured the public that he does not yet have all the facts yet to verify whether there was a fuel leak in January. At that time, the Navy reported a spill of jet fuel of as much as 27,000 gallons.

The Navy told the mayor that readings of the fuel tank may just have been off.

So why is there still so much uncertainty and what does it mean for those who depend on the drinking water source, which stretches from Red Hill all the way to Hawaii Kai?

Honolulu City Council member Breene Harimoto represents the area where the fuel storage facility sits. He was first told about a fuel spill in January from the Board of Water Supply.

Harimoto recently heard from the State Dept. of Health at a city council committee meeting on Wednesday. The department told councilmembers that diesel fuel well above the levels allowed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had been detected recently in a monitoring well near the military’s Tripler Medical Center.

Below is the statement from Gary Gill, deputy director of Environmental Health:

The Navy’s Red Hill fuel tank facility has spilled at each of its 20 tanks over the past 70 years.

Monitoring wells constructed to sample the ground water under the tanks confirm that, prior to the recent reported spill in January, petroleum fuel has penetrated the rock beneath the tanks and has entered the ground water.

The volume of the January spill is an estimate (27,000 gallons) by the Navy based on their flow control equipment, manual measurement and calculations. They have no system in place to measure exactly what has spilled or from where in a tank it has spilled.

While the Board of Water Supply wells in the area have been tested and are free of petroleum contamination, it is not known how far and in what direction the contamination from Red Hill has traveled.

The preliminary data from the Tripler monitoring well could indicate a second contamination source different from Red Hill.
Regardless of the volume of the January Red Hill spill, the Department of Health and EPA will continue to finalize an enforceable consent agreement that will require that the contamination in ground water be investigated, characterized and remediated.

We believe strongly that if the Navy intends to continue the use of the Red Hill fuel tanks, a state-of-the-art leak containment and detection system must be installed to protect Oahu’s drinking water source.

“The Department of Health’s Deputy Director Gary Gill was very clear there are concerns, very large concerns,” said Harimoto.

KHON2 received a statement Friday from the health department, which continues to make reference to a fuel spill in January by the Navy, and the department said in part that the Navy has no system in place to measure exactly what has spilled or from where in a tank it has spilled.

The statement also said that while the Board of Water Supply wells in the area show no petroleum contamination, it is not known how far and in what direction the contamination from Red Hill has traveled.

The chairman of the State House committee on energy and the environment told KHON2 he toured the fuel storage facility, and the Navy pointed out to him that there was a fuel leak.

Rep. Chris Lee was concerned that there now appears to be conflicting messages. “I think there is a little bit,” Lee said. “I think we need to make sure that people need to be up front that there was an issue, there is an issue, and now is an opportunity to do something about it.”

A mother of three who lives near the Red Hill facility expressed her concerns as well. “Obviously for my kids,” said Valerie Chamorro, “because I don’t want my kids to get sick or anything. They are my first priority.”

The Dept. of Health said it wants the Navy to install a state-of-the-art leak containment and detection system to protect Oahu’s drinking water source.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said it will continue to work with the state health department to come up with recommendations to make to the Navy. In a statement, EPA public affairs specialist Nahal Mogharabi said, “EPA is aware of this ongoing situation including the recent report by the Hawaii State Department of Health. EPA personnel have personally toured the site and the agency is continuing to working closely with the state as we conduct our investigation at Red Hill and develop our recommended corrective actions to present to the Navy.”

The investigation to determine what really happened at the storage facility may take up to a year.

Calls to Navy Region Hawaii were not returned.

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