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Navy confirms leaky petroleum tank, fueling Honolulu water worries

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers real estate and fuels assessors were called upon to visit this enormous Defense Logistics Agency's Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility at Joint Base Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in February. This 1942 Navy photo shows miners building just one of the 20 fuel tanks, which are connected by a miles-long tunnel. They are still in use today.

HONOLULU — The Navy has confirmed finding leaks in a storage tank in Red Hill that may have released an estimated 27,000 gallons of jet fuel in January, touching off more concern about the impact on nearby drinking-water wells.

Wells at the nearby Halawa shaft and Moanalua shaft provide about 25 percent of the drinking water for urban Honolulu.

Navy officials Thursday said the leaks, which are not visible to the naked eye, were found Wednesday and Thursday during an inspection of the emptied fuel tank. Officials used a vacuum box to verify that air could flow through the tank wall.

Three small holes were found below midlevel of the 250-foot tall Tank 5, said Tom Clements, a Navy Region Hawaii spokesman.

Navy Region Hawaii chief engineer Capt. Mike Williamson said the holes were found in areas that had undergone welding repairs.

A discrepancy in the storage tank's fuel level, announced by the Navy in January, prompted inspections.

Officials said they are continuing to examine the tank, which measures 100 feet in diameter. Inspections are expected to continue through late June.

During the early 1940s, some 20 tanks were built below ground in Red Hill to store fuel for ships and airplanes.

Based on test samples taken in April, the Honolulu Board of Water Supply has found no signs of contamination in the water supply around Red Hill, Board spokeswoman Jill Kuramoto said Thursday. Kuramoto said the next round of testing is set for July.

State Deputy Health Director Gary Gill said the Department of Health is working in tandem with the Navy to increase the number of monitoring wells near Red Hill in an effort to pinpoint how far the petroleum leak may have spread.

Gill said a better detection and prevention system needs to be developed for the 70-year-old fuel storage facility.

"The Department of Health feels very strongly that if the Red Hill fuel storage tanks are going to remain in operation, they need to be retrofitted with the state-of-the-art leak prevention and leak detection systems," he said.

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