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Diesel contamination at Tripler well raises alarm

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

LAST UPDATED: 12:14 a.m. HST, May 22, 2014

The preliminary finding of high levels of diesel at a monitoring well at Tripler Army Medical Center is prompting new alarms from state and city officials.

State Deputy Health Director Gary Gill told members of the City Council Public Works and Sustainability Committee Wednesday that he was informed by the Navy last week about the new petroleum contaminant. The preliminary findings showed 790 and 660 micrograms per liter, which are above the Health Department's "environmental action level" of 100 micrograms per liter.

The news comes on the heels of the Jan. 13 discovery that an underground storage tank at nearby Red Hill leaked up to 27,000 gallons of jet fuel. Health Department and Honolulu Board of Water Supply officials have said that to date, there have been no indication the fuel has contaminated the groundwater aquifer. The cause of the leak has not yet been determined.

If the Navy's subsequent testing at Tripler confirms the preliminary findings, there would still not be any immediate evidence that the fuel traveled from the 20-tank Red Hill facility, Gill said. 

Another likely source of the diesel is from Tripler itself, Gill said, noting that a landfill and gasoline stations were once on the grounds.

"Either one is not good news," Gill said, saying that the Tripler monitoring well is about half of the 1.3-mile distance between the fuel tank facility and the Board of Water Supply's Moanalua wells.

If confirmed, "that's of grave concern for two reasons," he said. "Either the Red Hill plume is going south ... or there's a whole different source of contamination that's polluting that groundwater, which might be even worse."

Ernest Lau, Board of Water Supply manager, said the new finding only heightens his agency's call for the Navy to ensure the island's water resources are protected.

Lau told committee members that the Board of Water Supply's five wells in the vicinity of the storage tanks continue to show no signs of contamination. Lau said the roughly 3,500-foot distance from the Tripler well to the city's Moanalua wells is worrisome.

"This is the Moanalua aquifer from which we draw drinking water with very little treatment except chlorination," Lau said. 

Installing treatment features at the wells could cost an estimated $50 million and take five to seven years, he said.

Wells in the area supply water from Halawa to Hawaii Kai, about one-quarter of the Board of Water Supply system, Lau said.

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