Hawaii officials pose bleaker estimate of Red Hill’s fuel contamination legacy
Stars and Stripes November 29, 2023
FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii — As much as 2 million gallons of fuel may have leaked and spilled into the ground under the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility since it was built during World War II, an amount far exceeding past estimates, Hawaii state and local officials said in a report released Tuesday.
The Red Hill Water Alliance Initiative, a working group of state, county and city of Honolulu officials, formed in May with a focus on remediation of areas contaminated by the facility.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in March 2022 ordered the facility permanently closed in the wake of a large jet fuel spill in late 2021 that contaminated a well used by the Navy to supply water to military communities on and near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
Roughly 20,000 gallons of fuel spilled during that incident and an earlier one in May.
But that amount is insignificant compared to the petroleum that made its way out of the tanks over the past 80 years, according to the report.
“The documented amount of fuel constituents in the ground is an estimated 180,000 gallons, spilled over 80 years in 70 incidences,” the report states.
“However, after listening to subject matter experts, it is the conclusion of the Red Hill WAI that a number significantly higher than 180,000 gallons must be assumed for the purposes of risk assessment and formulating remediation strategies, since this aquifer provides water to the majority of residents on Oʻahu, including Navy personnel.”
Missing from that total, the report states, are:
• 464,000 gallons released in “incidental leaks” over an 80-year period.
• An estimated spill of 1.3 million gallons of fuel oil in the 1940s as reported by an employee to a contractor.
“Under any circumstances, between 644,000 and 1.94 million gallons of fuel spilled upon the land would be a significant hazard to the environment,” the report states. “For this to occur over a period of 80 years just 100 feet above an aquifer on an island that cannot replace its water source presents an existential challenge.”
The draining of 104 million gallons of fuel from the facility is expected to be largely completed by spring. At that time, Navy Closure Task Force-Red Hill will take charge of the site and oversee final closure and remediation of soil and groundwater.
“The Navy remains committed to the safe and permanent closure of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility and long-term environmental remediation of the site,” the Navy said in a statement Tuesday.
“Partnership and collaboration are key to the success of these endeavors, and we share the same goals as the people of Hawaii: protect the environment, the water, and the community,” the statement continues. “We will continue to share information with elected officials, stakeholders, and the public, reinforcing the importance of transparency and our enduring commitment to Hawaii.”
The Water Alliance report called on the Navy to provide more information “than currently available” to assess immediate and future risks.
The alliance wants access to all the Navy’s monitoring wells; if that is not possible, then the Navy must conduct tests according to the alliance’s schedules and specifications, the report states.
The alliance also wants the Navy to establish a “sentinel” monitoring grid outside the area covered by its water distribution system.