Navy Ordered to Suspend Operations, Empty Red Hill Underground Storage Tanks
The Hawai‘i Department of Health is issuing an order to the United States Navy to suspend operations at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility. The order also calls for the Navy to take measures to treat contaminated drinking water at the Red Hill shaft, and safely remove fuel from the 20 underground storage tanks at Red Hill.
“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. There are still really important questions that need to be answered and the Order being issued by the Department of Health will help all parties get there. We are actively engaged in getting to the bottom of the issue as quickly as possible and as safely as possible,” said Gov. David Ige in a press release announcement.
“The Department of Health is taking action to fulfill our mission of protecting human health and the environment,” said Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Char, FACEP. “The Navy’s contamination of drinking water has impacted all O‘ahu residents—military and civilian—and we must take appropriate steps to safeguard the drinking water we all share as a community.”
Under the order, the Navy is required to:
- Immediately suspend operations at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Tanks, including fuel transfers. The Navy must continue to maintain environmental and monitoring controls.
- Take immediate steps to install drinking water treatment system(s) at Red Hill Shaft to ensure distribution of drinking water conforms to the standards prescribed by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and applicable federal and state regulations. This action should also minimize movement of the contaminant plume(s).
- 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 State is in the process of serving the Navy with the order and the Navy can request a hearing on the order within 24 hours of service.
DOH officials say they appreciate the Navy’s voluntary suspension of the underground storage tank operations at Red Hill, but say the emergency order ensures the suspension remains in place until independent evaluators can ensure that appropriate actions are taken to protect drinking water.
On Sunday, Nov. 28, DOH was notified that Navy water system users on O‘ahu reported fuel-like odors in tap water.
Further investigation revealed that drinking water tested positive for petroleum components and DOH has received more than 500 complaints to date. The Navy identified that a drinking water source at the Red Hill shaft was contaminated.
The emergency order also identifies historical releases and other information that the DOH says “shows that the Red Hill underground storage tank system presents a threat to drinking water and human health.”
“Until there is adequate evidence to show that water is safe to drink, DOH recommends all Navy water system users should avoid using the water for drinking, cooking, or oral hygiene. Navy water system users who detect a fuel-like odor from their water should also avoid using the water for bathing, dishwashing or laundry,” according to the DOH.
This recommendation applies to users of the Navy’s Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam water system, including the Aliamanu Military Reservation, Red Hill and Nimitz Elementary Schools and military housing.
Residents in military housing who have concerns about their water can call the INFOCELL at the EOC at the following numbers: 808-449-1979, 808-448-3262, 808-448-2557, 808-448-2570, 808-448-2583.
The Secretary of the Navy hosted a press conference yesterday to address concerns. The video is available for viewing here.