Navy Halts Use of Fuel Storage Complex Above Hawaii Aquifer

( – Following reports of concerns surrounding Honolulu’s drinking water in recent weeks, the U.S. Navy and Hawaii’s Department of Health partnered to identify the cause of the problem and create plans for solving it. An initial well closure quickly progressed to the shutdown of an entire fuel storage complex after water samples revealed that the contamination was more widespread than initially assumed.

Complaints Spark Concern

Nearly 1,000 military families in Honolulu have reported problems with the smell and taste of their tap water in recent weeks, indicating a leak from a fuel storage complex that has caused problems for the local water supply in the past. The Hawaii Department of Health estimates that a total of approximately 93,000 residents may be affected across the military base and in other parts of Honolulu. Most of these complaints were based on observations of the residents’ drinking water itself, much of which smelled like fuel. Some families also reported experiencing cramps, vomiting, rashes, headaches, sore throats, and other physical symptoms after consuming the water.

Navy’s Investigation Reveals Presence of Petroleum

Following the initial reports of a problem with Honolulu’s drinking water, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro visited Pearl Harbor to assist with identifying the source of the leak and determining next steps for mitigating the problem. A water sample indicated the presence of petroleum, which was later linked to a massive World War II-era fuel storage complex that has been the source of multiple leaks and water quality concerns in the past.

Multiple Well Closures Attempt to Isolate the Problem

The Halawa well, which is located near the fuel storage complex, was initially shut down by the Honolulu Board of Water Supply in an attempt to isolate the leak and prevent it from contaminating nearby water sources. Approximately a week later, a second well was also shut off until investigations are completed. These closures leave only one well that is believed to be unaffected to provide water to the City of Honolulu for the duration of the investigation and until measures are put into place to solve the problem. Residents are currently being advised to avoid using the water at all.

Ongoing Fuel Storage Concerns

Pearl Harbor’s fuel storage complex has been an ongoing source of problems for Hawaii residents since it was installed during the World War II era. Residents are calling for a permanent closure of the tanks that are not currently needed in the capacity and specific location that they were originally intended for.  The Navy has responded by shutting down the complex until a more permanent solution can be determined. According to guidance from the Hawaii Department of Health, the Navy must create and submit plans for repairing the complex well enough to safely empty the tanks and completely defuel the complex within 30 days.

No decision has been made regarding whether the complex should be removed altogether or left intact for potential future use, although it is unlikely to hold unneeded fuel again.

The Hawaii Department of Health issued an emergency order on Tuesday that advises residents within the affected area not to drink or otherwise use tap water until the problem is resolved, particularly water with a noticeable fuel odor or other obvious signs of contamination. The situation will not be considered resolved for residents until several days have passed with no traces of petroleum found in tested water samples, and the Navy will be expected to invest significant time and effort into finding a permanent solution to prevent similar issues from affecting residents in the future.

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