The Navy said it has temporarily ceased using the Red Hill fuel tanks as it continues to struggle with the contamination of its water system that serves about 93,000 people on Oahu.
“The Navy is not moving fuel from operational tanks at Red Hill at this time,” Navy spokesman Mike Andrews told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser today. “However, please remember that the fuel stored at Red Hill is vital to the nation and Hawaii, providing fuel not only to the Navy, Air Force, Army and Marines, but also Coast Guard and Hawaii National Guard.”
The Navy has been facing mounting criticism over its handling of fuel storage on the island, and Sunday Gov. David Ige and Hawaii’s congressional delegation called for the Navy to suspend its Red Hill fuel storage operation amid the water crisis.
“The Navy is currently using the above ground fuel tanks on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to support all operational requirements,” Andrews wrote to the Star-Advertiser today.
The Navy on Thursday said testing of its well at Red Hill showed the presence of petroleum contaminants in the wake of hundreds of military and nonmilitary users of the the water system complaining of a strong fuel odor in the water. Some users reported feeling ill or having pets that became sick.
The Navy’s subterranean Red Hill fuel storage facility is suspected as the cause of the contamination, and there is a growing chorus of calls from community groups and Hawaii lawmakers to close the facility. Military officials currently admit they don’t know when the water will be safe again.
Ige and U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono, and Reps. Ed Case and Kai Kahele released a joint statement calling for the Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro, who is in Hawaii for the 80th anniversary of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor, to suspend Red Hill operations.
Also on Sunday, the Star-Advertiser reported that water samples taken by the Navy from its Red Hill drinking water well and tested at a commercial facility showed petroleum contamination as far back as July. The Navy shut down the Red Hill water shaft on Nov. 28 as Department of Defense families began reporting the smell of fuel coming from their tap water, chemical odors, bad tastes, and a strange sheen.
It is unclear exactly when the Navy stopped using the Red Hill fuel tanks.