U.S. Navy Task Force Finishes Removing Fuel from Red Hill Facility After Storage Leaks

The Navy indicates the Red Hill facility is being closed, but may reopen in the future for storage of something other than fuel.

A joint task force put together by the Department of Defense and U.S. Navy has completed the removal of residual oil from the Red Hill storage facility in Hawaii, following fuel leaks that have caused severe water contamination and reports of health problems among nearby residents.

Located near the Pearl Harbor Memorial in Honolulu, Hawaii, the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility supports military and Naval operations for the U.S. in the Pacific, and previously held up to 250 million gallons of fuel. However, the storage tanks are housed in close proximity to the Southern Oʻahu Basal Aquifer, which is the primary source of drinking water for more than 400,000 people.

Red Hill Fuel Leaks

On May 6, and November 20, 2021, U.S. Naval personnel at Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility reportedly made errors that released petroleum jet fuel and several other toxic chemicals into the Red Hill drinking water well, which provides drinking, bathing and residential water to military service members and area residents.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports hundreds of families, living on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPHH) and the Army’s Aliamanu Military Reservation and Red Hill Housing have reported petroleum odors coming from the tap water supplied by the Navy water systems. Many have reported becoming ill with serious illnesses and side effects from the water contamination.

In addition, more than 2,200 residents living near the facility have filed Red Hill water contamination lawsuits against the U.S. government, claiming the U.S. Navy failed to warn residents about the risk of spills, failed to address the environmental and water contamination, and did not provide appropriate treatment to those in affected areas afterwards.

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According to a press release issued by Joint Task Force- Red Hill on March 6, the group has finished removing 61,414 gallons of accessible residual fuel from the facility. The task force indicates it has removed more than 100 million gallons of fuel from the facility overall, as part of a Defueling plan.

The press release notes that the removal is about six months ahead of schedule. The task force will stand down on March 28, after which the Navy Closure Task Force-Red Hill will take over and will need to remove an additional 4,000 gallons of fuel from the site, as well as 28,000 gallons of sludge.

“The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) are now conducting a Regulatory Interim Defueling Inspection to ensure and document all JTF-RH actions stipulated in the EPA Consent Order and DOH Emergency Order are complete,” the press release noted, indicating those inspections were expected to be finished by March 8. “Simultaneously, JTF-RH continues their turnover with the newly established Navy Closure Task Force to ensure continuity of mission for safety, security, and community engagement.”

Red Hill Water Contamination Health Concerns

Families living near the facility say they have experienced inconvenience, illnesses, economic injuries and fears for their health. They reported symptoms of abdominal issues, anxiety, exhaustion, headaches, muscle and joint pain, skin problems, such as rashes and blisters.

According to an EPA report, the spills exposed residents using the Red Hill drinking water system to thousands of cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene, PFAS chemicals and other toxic substances.

The facility may be repurposed by the U.S. Navy at some point in the future, but it will store something other than fuel, defense department officials indicate.

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