The U.S. Navy has announced it will take an immense military fuel tank farm above Pearl Harbor out of service after it has been discovered it has leaked fuel into the local tap water supply last year. The Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility is a World War II-era system that has been affected by poor management practices and human error resulting in the leaks.
The results of the Navy’s investigation were released on Thursday by the Hawaii Department of Health. The system leaked fuel into a nearby well that supplies water to housing and office facilities on base and around Pearl Harbor.
It is believed that the drinking water for thousands of people was poisoned and many military personnel and civilians were forced to evacuate their homes.
Hawaii Deputy Director of Environmental Health Kathleen Ho issued a statement saying the Red Hill fuel facility must be shut down immediately. She said the state “fully expects that the Navy will marshal all possible available resources to defuel and decommission the facility,”
Ho said the state’s first priority will be ensuring the defueling work is “performed safely for the sake of the people and environment of Hawai‘i.” She noted the significant amount of repair work needed at the facility and the history of the Navy allowing fuel spills to occur from unsafe pipelines.
The report found that a series of operator errors dating to May 2021 caused a pipeline to rupture. That event led to a 21,000 gallon fuel spill between storage tanks. That spill contaminated a fire suppression water line and sat unremediated for six months until another spill occurred when a cart rammed into the suppression line last November.
Around 6,000 were treated for fuel poisoning with symptoms ranging from nausea to headaches, rashes, and other illnesses. Around 4,000 families had to be relocated into temporary housing in hotels from several months until their water supply was deemed safe for their return. Most of the displaced families were military personnel.
The report indicated that a “lack of critical thinking, intellectual rigor, and self-assessment by key leaders at decisive moments” were to blame for the errors and leaks. It found a “culture of complacency and demonstrated lack of professionalism” not acceptable at a fuel facility.
U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Sam Papara said at a press conference that the Navy was working to “get real with ourselves” and to be “honest about our deficiencies.”