Hawaii governor urges Navy to suspend operations at World War II-era fuel tank amid water contamination


Hawaii Governor David Ige and congressional leaders from the state urged the U.S. Navy to suspend operations at a World War II-era underground fuel tank facility after petroleum was detected in drinking water in the Pearl Harbor area. 

“Test results confirming contamination of drinking water at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam show that the Navy is not effectively operating the World War II-era facility and protecting the health and safety of the people of Hawaii,” Gov. Ige said in a statement Sunday evening, along with U.S. Senators Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz, and U.S. Reps. Ed Cases and Kaiali’i Kahele. 

“We are calling for the Navy to immediately suspend operations at Red Hill while they confront and remedy this crisis.”

This photo shows a tunnel inside the Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on Jan. 26, 2018. The state of Hawaii says a laboratory has detected petroleum product in a water sample from an elementary school near Pearl Harbor. (U.S. Navy via AP)

This photo shows a tunnel inside the Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on Jan. 26, 2018. The state of Hawaii says a laboratory has detected petroleum product in a water sample from an elementary school near Pearl Harbor. (U.S. Navy via AP)

The Red Hill fuel storage facility consists of 20 underground steel-lined tanks that can hold up to 250 million gallons of fuel. Construction on the facility started in 1940 after the Roosevelt administration expressed concerns about the vulnerability of above-ground tanks. 

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The Navy ran tests on its water distribution system last week after nearly 1,000 military households complained that their water smelled like fuel and was making them sick. One test showed “petroleum hydrocarbons roughly four to ten times below the Hawaii Department of Health Environmental Action Level” and another test “confirmed vapors.”

“Based on the findings, the Navy will work with DOH to revise the public health guidance and develop the way ahead so our families and other impacted people can return to a normal life with a safe, reliable water source,” the Navy said in a statement on Dec. 3. 

The Honolulu Board of Water Supply shut down its largest water source on Oahu, Halawa Shaft, after the Navy reported that petroleum was detected. 

“We are deeply concerned that we were not notified immediately by the Navy regarding the shut down of their Red Hill water source,” Chief Engineer Ernest Lau said in a statement on Dec. 3. “We have data that shows when they stop pumping at Red Hill, water starts moving in the direction of our Halawa Shaft due to our pumping.”

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The U.S. Navy is providing temporary lodging to service members and civilians affected by the water crisis at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. 

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