Honolulu water declared safe to drink despite leak of jet fuel close to wells

By ROB SHIKINA | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: January 17, 2014

HONOLULU — Federal and local officials say Honolulu's tap water is safe to drink, although test results confirmed Thursday that a 12 million-gallon Navy jet fuel tank leaked in the vicinity of five wells.

Navy officials suspect less than 20,000 gallons of JP-8 fuel leaked from Tank 5 at the Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility.

After finding a possible leak Monday, Navy officials confirmed the leak at a joint news conference Thursday with state and city officials. All said the impact of the leak is minimal and that drinking water remains safe.

"Based on information we have at this time, the (state) Department of Health does not believe that this situation is an imminent threat to the environment or the public health," said Keith Kawaoka, program manager for the Hazard Evaluation and Emergency Response Office.

He said drinking water well samples will continue to be taken and that a monitoring plan is being developed.

Capt. Mike Williamson, commanding officer of Naval Facilities Engineering Command Hawaii, assured residents and employees of military installations receiving water from nearby wells that they don't have to worry about their water. He said groundwater wells are being monitored continuously.

"I have a high degree of confidence that petroleum products from this incident have not migrated from the Red Hill tank facility towards the Red Hill aquifer," he said. He said the results of samples taken from groundwater wells before the drinking water aquifer could tell how far any fuel may have seeped. Those results are expected early next week.

But in a telephone interview, Carroll Cox, an environmental watchdog, called the announcement "premature" and said he's not comfortable believing that the situation is under control until a complete and transparent review is done.

Capt. Mark Wheeler, commanding officer of Naval Supply Fleet Logistics Center Pearl Harbor, said workers noticed a discrepancy in the tank's fuel level gauges at about 7:45 a.m. Monday and began a physical inspection of the tank, during which a 3-foot wet patch was found on a concrete wall that surrounds the tank.

A sample from the wet patch was taken, and results Thursday confirmed that it was fuel from within the tank.

Ernest Lau, manager and chief engineer of the Hono­lulu Board of Water Supply, said the community was not put at risk because wells in the area were immediately isolated. Samples were taken, and the test results from labs in Cali­for­nia are expected back Monday.

In this 1942 file photo from the Navy, miners build one of 20 fuel tanks at the Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility in Hawaii.


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