Hawaii officials reject Navy’s proviso for viewing Red Hill firefighting foam spill video
Stars and Stripes December 7, 2022
FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii – The Hawaii Department of Health is weighing legal options for obtaining video footage from the Navy showing toxic firefighting foam spilling last week at the Red Hill fuel storage facility in Honolulu.
About 1,100 gallons of Aqueous Film Forming Foam, or AFFF, leaked on Nov. 29 from a tank near the top level of the vast underground facility, which the Navy is in the midst of permanently shutting after a fuel spill late last year.
The Navy’s Joint Task Force-Red Hill, which is tasked with emptying the fuel tanks for the facility’s permanent closure, has told the Health Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that they could view the video at a military facility but not obtain a copy, Katie Arita-Chang, a spokeswoman for the Health Department said in an email to Stars and Stripes on Tuesday.
“DOH will be consulting with the Department of the Attorney General, as in this case, we believe that receiving a copy of the video is necessary to carry out our regulatory work,” Arita-Chang said. “It is also imperative that the Joint Task Force makes the video available to the public as soon as possible in the interest of honesty and transparency.”
Navy and Defense Department officials have repeatedly vowed to maintain transparency during cleanup of the Navy’s fuel-contaminated water distribution system earlier this year after thousands of residents of military communities on and near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam were temporarily displaced.
Rear Adm. John Wade has on numerous occasions promised a transparent process since taking command of the Red Hill task force in late September.
Critics, however, are once again questioning that commitment after the task force on Monday announced it would not publicly release footage of the spill of AFFF, which contains PFAS, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl, a class of hazardous chemicals commonly used in manufacturing and fire suppressants.
“The video and other evidence will not be released publicly at this time as doing so may impact the integrity of the investigation,” a task force news release stated. “The video will be made available when it is determined that doing so will no longer affect the investigation.”
The Sierra Club of Hawaii called the decision “outrageous” in a statement on Monday.
“The Navy continues to talk about transparency while hiding evidence of its repeated contamination of our environment,” David Kimo Frankel, an attorney for the group, said in the statement.
In a letter Friday to Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, U.S. Rep. Kai Kalele of Hawaii wrote that the system failure that resulted in the spill of AFFF “seems unimaginable.”
The spill “illustrates that the scale and scope of operational and maintenance failures at Red Hill have exceeded the capabilities of the U.S. Navy to manage,” wrote Kalele, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee but did not run for reelection in November.
“The ongoing crisis at Red Hill has resulted in a nearly ubiquitous erosion of public trust in the Navy across the State of Hawaiʻi,” he wrote.
Navy officials were apparently initially unaware that the spill had been recorded.
“There is no video camera positioned there to get the spill, and I'm not aware of any video of this incident at all,” Wade told reporters during a news conference a day after the spill.
Two days later, the Navy said in a statement that there were two closed-circuit cameras in the spill area, but only one was operational.
Of the 37 closed-circuit cameras in the Red Hill facility, only 30 are operational, the statement said.
The investigation into the cause of the AFFF leak is being led by Army Reserve Maj. Gen. Richard Heitkamp, deputy director of military programs at the Army Corps of Engineers in Washington, D.C.
The probe is expected to be completed within 30 days, the task force said in a news release Friday.