Star-Advertiser: Red Hill fuel tank corrosion worse than expected


By Sophie Cocke 

Testing by the Navy on one of its massive underground fuel tanks at Red Hill suggests that tank corrosion at the facility is more extensive than it predicted, elevating concerns among Honolulu Board of Water Supply officials and environmentalists about the aging facility’s potential for leaks and the risk that poses to Oahu’s drinking water.

As part of an agreement with federal and state regulators, the Navy sampled 10 steel plates from one of its 20 tanks at the Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility near Pearl Harbor. At least five of the plates, which measured 1-foot by 1-foot in size, showed considerable corrosion, according to the Board of Water Supply, which was briefed by the Navy on the findings. More troubling, parts of the tank’s original, quarter-inch-thick steel liner have become extremely thin and it appears the Navy overestimated the remaining thickness of some of the plates.

For instance, the Navy had anticipated the thickness of one steel plate to be between 0.135 to 0.187 inches. However, testing in June indicated that the remaining thickness was about half of that. The steel liner is the only thing separating the fuel from a release into the environment.

“The Navy’s predictions are so far off, and the corrosion is so far gone, that the risk of another significant leak, potentially catastrophic, is far more severe than previously thought,” said Marti Townsend, director for the Hawaii Sierra Club, in a press release. “Once the fuel escapes there is no way to get it back. It is irresponsible to continue the current course of action on these tanks.”

Townsend said the Navy needed to retire the tanks and relocate the fuel away from drinking water supplies.

Department of Health officials have said that fuel leaks, including a 27,000 gallon release at the facility in January 2014, are nearly impossible to clean up.

Officials have worried that past and future fuel leaks could migrate to an aquifer that supplies drinking water to residents from Moanalua to Hawaii Kai. The aquifer sits just 100 feet below the tanks. Fuel leaks also pose a risk to a nearby Navy well that supplies drinking water to about 65,000 people at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

If the aquifer is polluted by a major failure at one of the Red Hill tanks, the Navy’s own studies indicate the cleanup of the critical water supply could take decades or be cost prohibitive.

The corrosion testing is required as part of an agreement that the Navy entered into with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Hawaii Department of Health after the 2014 fuel release.

The Navy and regulators are also in the process of assessing six options for improving the tanks, including building new tanks, constructing a tank within a tank and double lining the tanks. The Navy informed regulators in August that it would likely be recommending the option that its own report described as involving “minimal changes to the status quo.” The corrosion testing is likely to increase pressure on the Navy to choose more aggressive tank protection options.

A plan for tank improvements will have to be approved by regulators who are expecting the Navy to take into account its corrosion study, as well as studies on leak- detection methods, in making its formal recommendation, which is due at the end of the year.

Ernie Lau, manager and chief engineer of the Board of Water Supply, said that the findings, which have not been released in a final report, raise concerns about the Navy’s current methods of inspection and repair of the tanks. The Board of Water Supply is urging the Navy to expand its corrosion sampling to more tanks.

The Navy didn’t respond directly to an emailed question from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser asking whether it would be willing to test for corrosion in additional tanks. Instead the Navy issued a news release, stating it would brief elected officials and regulators on the latest information during an annual state Senate task force meeting on Oct. 3.

The Navy stressed that the corrosion study is “ongoing and has not been completed,” with final results expected in late October and warned against making conclusions based on incomplete information.

“Ensuring tank integrity is the top priority and key to the exhaustive review approach we’ve agreed to,” said Lt. Cmdr. Blake Whittle, fuels director at Fleet Logistics Center Pearl Harbor, in the news release.

In recent years the Navy and the Defense Logistics Agency have spent $45.3 million to help identify the best alternative to improve the facility, while conducting groundwater studies, the Navy said. An additional $260 million has been spent since 2006 on maintaining and modernizing the facility and conducting environmental testing.

“We have not and will not rush to judgment or conclusions, and we will continue to keep the drinking water safe, no matter what,” said Rear Adm. Brian Fort, commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific. “There is much more work to do in studying, analyzing and then implementing all the right initiatives at Red Hill.”

Star-Advertiser: Red Hill fuel ruling must quicken fixes


February 26, 2018

The existence of the Navy’s underground fuel storage facility at Red Hill — constructed during the World War II era — was a state secret until the early 1990s, when the tank farm was declassified. That disclosure prompted petroleum leak-related worries and other concerns about risks tied to the facility’s 20 aging fuel tanks — each large enough to swallow Aloha Tower. They’re perched just 100 feet above Oahu’s primary aquifer, which supplies drinking water to more than 400,000 residents, from Moanalua to Hawaii Kai.

In 1992, state legislation was enacted directing Hawaii’s Health Department to put in place rules requiring upgrade or replacement of underground storage tanks tethered to various public services and private businessess by late 1998. The law is part of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program that tasks states with setting standards for the EPA to enforce.

But in a misguided move, DOH exempted the Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility from the deadline-driven lineup.

It now comes as a relief that a state judge has corrected that misstep. Ruling last week in favor of the Sierra Club in its lawsuit against the Health Department, Circuit Judge Jeffrey P. Crabtree put the matter succinctly: “The statute trumps the admin rule.”

The DOH has countered that it’s already in the process of adopting new rules that do not exempt the military, which it expects to begin enforcing in October. But the court’s opinion must spur the state to move faster — and push the Navy to pick up its pace in addressing needed Red Hill upgrades.

Concern about the facility’s potential to taint drinking water quality shot up in the aftermath of a 27,000-gallon fuel leak in January 2014. The next year, the Navy entered into an agreement with the EPA and the Health Department (site regulator) that requires it to research and evaluate structural upgrades to the concrete tanks, which are fitted with quarter-inch steel plates.

After much foot-dragging, in December, the Navy released a study that examines six options ranging from enhancing current maintenance and inspection to a potentially high-priced pick that involves creating a carbon steel tank within a tank. The EPA, Health Department and Navy are now using the study, along with community input and other studies, to select a final upgrade option.

The military needs the Red Hill facility’s flow of fuel to support vessels and aircraft in its Pacific theater. Rear Adm. Brian Fort, commander of Navy Region Hawaii, has pointed out that in the last 12 years more than $200 million has been spent to continue modernization, and that recent tests at monitoring wells and other sources “confirm our drinking water continues to be safe to drink.”

Oahu residents, however, are due for updated protections. Red Hill’s tanks are now nearly 80 years old. And studies document leaks dating back to late 1940s. In all, reports suggest there have been more than 30 leaks, with at least 170,000 gallons of fuel seeping away from tanks.

The Sierra Club is correct in contending that pace toward a better buffer against potential environmental and public health threats is too slow, particularly with looming EPA budget cuts expected under the Trump administration. Right now, we cannot rely heavily on the federal government to prioritize protections of our state’s natural environment.

After Wednesday’s ruling in Circuit Court, Marti Townsend, director of the Sierra Club of Hawaii, said: “It’s time to fix up the Red Hill fuel tanks or shut them down.” Agreed. Four years have passed since the worrisome tank fuel leak that the Navy has blamed on poorly performed work by a contractor and the military branch’s own insufficient oversight.

It’s frustrating to see that the Navy and environmental regulators have yet to even settle on a satisfactory fix. A selection that prioritizes public safety should be made quickly.

Star Advertiser: Navy failed to show at board meetings (Red Hill)

Here are two Star Advertiser letters to the editor regarding the US Navy no-showing at Neighborhood Board meetings to give their Red Hill presentation. These letters were published on December 8, 2017 and December 10, 2017. Mahalo board members Josh Frost (Palolo Neighborhood Board) and Linda Wong  (Diamond Head/Kapahulu/St. Louis Heights Neighborhood Board) for submitting these letters to the editor:

Star Advertiser: Navy should start relocating Red Hill tanks

Honolulu Star-Advertiser, December 10, 2017
By Marti Townsend

If our enemies poisoned our drinking water, we would all be up in arms. But when the U.S. Navy pollutes our groundwater, it expects us to accept it in the name of national security. We should not and do not accept this. While national security is imperative, clean drinking water, in times of peace and in times of war, is crucial to the well-being of all. It must be protected, period.

The U.S. Navy’s World War II-era fuel tanks at Red Hill store millions of gallon of petroleum and sit only one hundred feet above Oahu’s primary groundwater aquifer.

In his column, “Red Hill 4 years later: Drinking water safe” (Star-Advertiser, Island Voices, Dec. 6), the newly installed Rear Adm. Brian Fort describes the Red Hill facility as “an amazing engineering wonder.” The only thing “amazing” about the Red Hill facility is that within five years of its construction, it was already leaking massive amounts of petroleum into our groundwater.

According to a Sept. 10, 1948, memorandum to the Public Works Office of Pearl Harbor, Tank No. 16 “was leaking at the rate of approximately 13 barrels per day.” In May 1949, Bechtel Corporation measured leak rates of 37 barrels per day. Amazing. All told, a conservative estimate based on naval reports puts the total petroleum products leaked at over 200,000 gallons since 1943.

In January 2014, the Navy admitted to spilling 27,000 more gallons of fuel into the ground.

Our Board of Water Supply cautions that the “amount of petroleum contamination in the groundwater underneath Tank 5 is rising.” Total petroleum hydrocarbons have measured as high as 6,300 micrograms per liter in the groundwater underneath the Red Hill fuel tanks. The state Health Department calls for action at far lower amounts of contamination: 400 micrograms per liter. Benzene, a carcinogen, is also being detected in wells near the Red Hill facility.

The Health Department admitted that storing up to 187 million gallons of fuel, a mere 100 feet above Oahu’s drinking water resource, is “inherently dangerous.” In a 2014 report to the Legislature, the Health Department argued that the operation of this facility should only exist on the condition that the facility “be upgraded with secondary containment,” but the state has refused to enforce this standard.

The U.S. Navy admits to already spending more than $200 million on “modernization” of this facility, and still there is no guarantee that it won’t leak again or that if it does they could clean it up.

Looking at these facts, it is amazing this situation has been allowed to continue for so long.

The rear admiral’s platitudes to trust the Navy rings hollow in the context of repeated sub-standard work product delivered as part of the current consent decree, emphasis on secretive non-disclosure agreements over transparency and good data gathering, and multiple missed neighborhood board meetings.

Given the close proximity of the Red Hill fuel tanks to our aquifer, the amount of petroleum that has already leaked, and the alarming amount of fuel still stored at Red Hill, the Navy should be working to relocate these tanks now.

It is frustrating the Navy appears to be spending more time and money on public relations to defend a bad idea whose time has passed, than on investigating better ways to store its fuel.

Efforts to defend U.S. national security should not pose an inherent threat to the safety of Hawaii’s public health and natural resources.

Star Advertiser: Threat of Red Hill fuel spill ignored

By Colleen Soares
September 27, 2017

The Red Hill water contamination issue is often on my mind, and all of us in Hawaii should be scared about the potential disaster awaiting if the 77-year-old fuel tanks are not shut down. Hawaii’s water is under threat, and we should not become complacent. The Environmental Protection Agency may soon have minimal resources given the current political climate, and Hawaii’s local government must step up to fill that void and ensure our safety.​ ​

The state Department of Health has the responsibility of protecting Hawaii’s drinking water supplies, and the public’s health from contamination. If you have read the history of the Camp Lejeune water contamination disaster in North Carolina, your complacency may be shaken (see The parallels with the Red Hill water contamination here on Oahu are disturbing.

Both Red Hill and Camp Lejeune involve many huge and old fuel storage tanks built in the 1940s, and buried underground near drinking water supplies. Camp Lejeune contamination happened over a long period of time between the 1950s and 1980s. Contamination was discovered and ignored in the 1980s, after repeated warnings by scientists. Repeated warnings were ignored and there was delay — some say stonewalling — on the part of the military, and cases are still being investigated and litigated today, decades later. The contamination has affected 1 million people who had lived at Camp Lejeune and are suffering a variety of deadly diseases.

With Red Hill, there is also delay, and lack of transparency. We do know that sometime before 2013, 27,000 gallons of jet fuel leaked from fuel tanks located above the Halawa aquifer. We know that “Environmental sampling over the years has shown a number of fuel releases dating back to 1947.” And we know that in 2015, the Honolulu Board of Water Supply found that the groundwater aquifer, “is contaminated to various levels from petroleum contaminants below and near the facility,” according to a 2015 TV news report.

In December 2014, a report to the state of Hawaii by the Red Hill Fuel Storage Facility Task Force noted this: “Each tank was originally built with a leak detection system that consisted of a series of pipes that could potentially collect any released fuel at a central location. The Navy later determined [in 1970] that this initial leak detection system had design flaws which resulted in numerous false reports. This system was subsequently removed.”

​As note​d above, the Navy later determined problems with the dete​​ction system, but the public needs to know about the false reports. Why were they deemed false and what did the reports say? Could it be that the reports showed a high leakage that was misread, unbelievable and thus ignored, like at Camp Lejeune? And, when was anot​her leak detection system put in place?

The Red Hill study noted that in 2008, $120,000 was spent researching secondary containment and leak detection technology options, but there is lack of transparency about a new leak detection system. Like Camp Lejeune, the potential disaster at Red Hill of a poisoned Hawaiian water supply and resulting deadly diseases, is being underplayed, delayed and ignored.

Colleen Soares has a Ph.D. in education and was a university professor for many years. She is also the current Chair of the Outings Committee for the Sierra Club O‘ahu Group.

Civil Beat: Threat To Drinking Water Remains As Navy Studies Options For Fuel Tanks

The facility has 20 tanks with a total capacity of 250 million gallons of fuel. It is the largest underground fuel tank system in the nation, and the Navy says it’s essential to military operations in the Pacific.

But the aging tanks are near two Oahu aquifers that supply thousands of residents with drinking water, and they have a history of leaking. In January 2014, 27,000 gallons of fuel spilled, prompting a public outcry and regulatory agencies to take action.

The security fence at Red Hill underground fuel tank facility in 2014. Access is restricted because it’s still an operational military facility. ©PF Bentley/Civil Beat

In October 2015, the Navy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Hawaii Department of Health signed an “administrative order on consent” that set out a 22-year timeline to upgrade the tanks. The agencies’ press release announcing the agreement said the Navy would “evaluate potential cleanup methods and assess the risk the facility poses to Oahu’s drinking water resources, all within the next two years.”

But the Navy is still six months away from turning in a report analyzing various options for upgrading the tanks, and state and federal officials anticipate it will take three to six months to choose the best one.

“I can’t say the exact schedule because it will depend on a number of factors,” said Tom Huetteman, assistant director in the Land Division for EPA Region 9. “Once we have the document on hand we will get to work.”

Steven Chang of the health department said additional reports on assessing risks and investigating fuel releases aren’t expected until next year.

The EPA and DOH sent a letter to the Navy  last month criticizing the quality of the data it has provided so far.

“They didn’t have a full, good grasp of the degree of the work that’s involved.” — Erwin Kawata, Honolulu Board of Water Supply

“The Navy has spent almost two years on the environmental investigation and modeling aspects of the Red Hill AOC, yet little additional information about environmental conditions in the area has been collected,” the regulatory agencies wrote.

In response, the Navy hired more consultants to beef up its expertise. Mark Manfredi, the lead Navy official on the project, acknowledged the data fell short but said that doesn’t mean the final reports will be delayed.

Manfredi said since the agreement was signed in October 2015, the Navy has spent about $20 million on various improvements including installing additional monitoring wells, increasing the frequency of tank testing and completing multiple reports.

Huetteman, Chang, and Manfredi all say that the process is still on schedule.

But Erwin Kawata from the Honolulu Board of Water Supply said the agencies gave the impression that studies and analysis would get done within the first two years, and that’s not the case.

“It’s going to go beyond that,” he said. “There’s just so many technical issues, concepts, principles that need to be evaluated. They didn’t have a full, good grasp of the degree of the work that’s involved.”

He thinks it will take longer than expected to decide which alternative to pursue, and said he’s concerned about the potential for additional contamination if the process of upgrading the tanks is dragged out.

Jodi Malinoski from the Sierra Club Hawaii is also worried that the Navy is falling behind schedule. She’s frustrated that the Navy gets 22 years to upgrade the tanks to begin with.

“By the time it’s finished the tanks will be nearly 100 years old and the tanks were not built to last forever,” she said.

Kawata was disappointed that the Legislature didn’t approve a bill this year that would have required the Navy to double-line the tanks.

Sen. Mike Gabbard introduced the proposal with the support of groups like the Sierra Club Hawaii, but it died quickly in the Senate.

Chang said the bill was premature because figuring out the best way to prevent future leaks requires more analysis.

“It’s not an off-the-shelf solution,” Chang said.

Meanwhile, lack of staffing and resources is a looming potential challenge. The health department has been trying to hire an engineer, geologist and environmental health specialist to better understand the Navy’s reports, and the state agency is bracing for potential budget cuts because many of its positions are federally funded.

Chang himself is thinking of retiring, in part because the division is moving from Kakaako to a new location in Pearl City and he lives in East Honolulu, although he’s considering staying on as a volunteer.

Manfredi said he understands concerns about potential delays, but that the Navy is taking the process seriously.

“At the end of the day the Navy isn’t gaining anything by delaying any of this work,” he said. “The longer it takes us to make a decision the less time we have to do this. It’s in our best interest to get this knocked out as soon as we can.”

Red Hill Press Coverage in June 2017

Our Red Hill Water Security campaign has gotten a lot of great press coverage this month. Please enjoy!

FLUX Hawai‘i magazine article, Sacred Places Edition, “What Lies Beneath Red Hill”, read here:

ThinkTech Hawai‘i, “Hawai‘i is my MainLand” show. Red Hill Cocktail Hour: Mixing War Fuel with Water:

Star-Advertiser Letter to the Editor by Joshua Noga:

Star-Advertiser Letter to the Editor by Nate Yuen:

Editorial| Our View

Speed up work on Red Hill tanks

June 29, 2017
Despite a fast-approaching deadline for a defensible plan to upgrade protection of drinking water sources near its Red Hill fuel farm, the U.S. Navy has continued to drag its feet.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Health issued a letter on June 7 rightly criticizing the Navy, which has been conducting an environmental investigation for almost two years, for providing too little information on water flow modeling that tracks where previously spilled fuel might end up.

The call for flow modeling is part of an administrative order on consent agreed to by the Navy, state Health Department, EPA and Defense Logistics Agency to minimize the threat of fuel releases, following a 27,000-gallon spill in 2014 and periodic spills before that at the World War II-era facility.

In response to the letter, which referenced repeated chiding of the Navy for “insufficient understanding of the expertise and level of effort necessary” to meet the demands of the consent order, Rear Adm. John Fuller, head of Navy Region Hawaii, presented a promising can-do reply.

In a June 20 letter to Red Hill “stakeholders,” he said: “We can and we will do better. While no one likes getting a progress report that essentially says, ‘Navy, you need to work harder and smarter to meet a future requirement,’ their letter illustrates the (consent order’s) power and value.”

But Fuller, who took the helm in Hawaii two years ago, is slated to relinquish command of Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific on Friday. It’s imperative that his successor follow through with a plan that provides a better buffer against an ever-present public health threat.

Fuller asserted that the 2014 leak was “due to human error, not simple material failure,” and that the facility’s steel-lined tanks — now more than 70 years old — are in “great condition” and undergoing continual modernization. Regardless, the call for a retrofit or even possible relocation is justified because the Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility is perched just 100 feet above Oahu’s primary aquifer, which supplies drinking water to more than 600,000 residents, from Moanalua to Hawaii Kai. That proximity is too close for drinking-water comfort in the world’s most isolated island chain.

Constructed as a bombproof reserve, the Navy-operated facility houses 20 aging tanks — each 250 feet tall and 100 feet in diameter, situated vertically underground. Each is large enough to bottle Aloha Tower (184 feet tall). The site’s fuel capacity is 250 million gallons, enough fuel to fill 379 Olympic-size swimming pools.

The finalized fuel tank upgrade plan is due Dec. 8. At least six options are under review — three envision what’s now considered the closest thing to a sure-bet seal: a double-walled retrofit. The rest opt for a single-wall. Both types present daunting engineering challenges. In that respect, some foot-dragging, while not acceptable, is understandable.

Red Hill was a state secret until the early 1990s, when the facility was declassified. By the late ’90s, the Navy had initiated various environmental probes and monitoring. Given that nearly two decades have passed since then, it’s puzzling that the Navy does not have water flow modeling down cold.

In all, reports suggest that since 1947 there have been more than 30 leaks, with at least 170,000 gallons of fuel seeping away from tanks.

The military needs the facility’s flow of fuel to support vessels and aircraft in its Pacific theater. Oahu residents, however, are due for updated protection against catastrophe scenarios. For example, the city Board of Water Supply estimates that structural failure — triggered by an earthquake, for example — could drop more than 1 million gallons of fuel pollution into groundwater and potentially several million gallons into Halawa Stream and Pearl Harbor.

Both military and civilian sectors are counting on the Navy to produce a plan for Red Hill that can stand up to scientific and engineering scrutiny. Over the next several months, it can — and must — do better.

Star Advertiser: Red Hill fuel tanks need swift remedy

 Honolulu Star Advertiser | Editorial |  Our View  |  Saturday, May 27, 2017

Designed during World War II as a bombproof reserve, Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility houses 20 aging tanks — each large enough to swallow Aloha Tower. It helps serve an ongoing U.S. military need for “uninterrupted access to large volume, secure and sustainable fuel storage facilities” in Hawaii and throughout the Pacific. But it’s also perched just 100 feet above Oahu’s primary aquifer, which supplies drinking water to more than 600,000 residents, from Moanalua to Hawaii Kai.

Concern about its potential to taint drinking water quality shot up in the aftermath of a 27,000-gallon fuel leak in January 2014. The next year, the Navy (Red Hill’s operator) entered into an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state Health Department (site regulator) that requires a series of studies and upgrades over a span of 20 years.

The Hawaii Sierra Club rightly contends that pace is too slow, particularly with looming EPA budget cuts under the Trump administration. Given the proposal to cut EPA funding by about 30 percent, we cannot rely heavily on the federal government to protect our environment or public health.

The nonprofit is now applying some needed arm-twisting, to have the Navy speed progress. On Wednesday, it delivered notice to the Department of Health that the agency is in violation of a 1992 state law that required replacement or upgrades of underground systems storing hazardous material by late 1998. The DOH has yet to respond to the petition, which could serve as a prelude to a lawsuit against the state.

For safety’s sake, the Sierra Club and others must continue to force the issue. In addition to complying with the upgrades law, the DOH needs to clearly specify terms for cleanups and decommissioning of all underground tanks in Hawaii, most of which are tiny compared to those under Red Hill. Although the military facility is a hidden feat of engineering — constructed in four years — it was not built to last forever.

It’s frustrating to see that Navy and environmental regulators have yet to even settle on exactly how the tanks would be upgraded. Some state officials and others want what’s now considered the closest thing to a sure-bet seal: a double-walled retrofit. The Navy, which has, in the past, expressed concerns about cost, is weighing new technology and other ideas. At least six options are under review. But three years have passed since the worrisome leak. A selection should be made quickly.

The longer the wait, the more likely it is we’ll see more trouble with the 77-year-old tanks. Studies document leaks dating back to 1947, corrosion of liners, and gauge risk of a catastrophic fuel release, which the Board of Water Supply says could pollute the aquifer and our water supply for many years.

Earlier this year, the Navy assured state lawmakers that the tanks are not leaking. In written testimony, it said: “validated testing confirms, and all parties agree” the drinking water from the shaft is safe. Since the 2014 leak, the Navy has stepped up testing of drinking and groundwater and added monitoring wells. Also, over the past decade, the federal government has made $200 million in improvements, ranging from installation of groundwater and soil vapor monitoring systems to structurally reinforcing and renovating tunnels and passageways.

EPA officials echo a sense of calm in a May status update, which states that drinking water in the area meets federal and state standards, and that recent tests had not detected any fuel leaks.

But catastrophe scenarios — touched off by an earthquake, for example — are unnerving. The BWS estimates that structural failure could sink more than 1 million gallons of fuel into groundwater and potentially several million gallons into Halawa Stream and Pearl Harbor. The semi-autonomous agency that manages Oahu’s municipal water resources wants the Navy to double-line tanks or relocate them away from the aquifer. The Navy and environmental regulators should pick one or the other, and soon.

The very existence of the Red Hill tanks was a state secret until the early 1990s, when the facility was declassified. Now, with its strengths and flaws under glare of public scrutiny, it’s time to finalize a plan of action for the site’s future and promptly get the job done.

Sierra Club Calls on Health Department to Update Fuel Tank Rules to Prevent Leaks

Honolulu, Hawaiʻi (May 24, 2017) — The Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi delivered official notice to the state Department of Health today that their underground storage tank regulations violate a 1992 state statute. The 1992 law states, “Existing underground storage tanks or existing tank systems shall be replaced or upgraded not later than December 22, 1998 to prevent releases for their operating life.” This has not happened according to the Sierra Club.

Marti Townsend, Director of the Sierra Club of Hawaiʻi stated, “This requirement applies to all tanks storing hazardous material underground, including the U.S. Navy’s Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage  Facility that leaked 27,000 gallons of jet fuel in 2014.”

The Environmental Protection Agency determined in 1987 that the Southern Oʻahu Basal Aquifer located beneath the Red Hill fuel tanks is the “principal source of drinking water” for the island, and that “if contaminated, would create a significant hazard to public health.” Analysis of the Navy’s spillage reports at the Red Hill facility reveals that more than 200,000 gallons of petroleum products have leaked since the facility was built more than 70 years ago. 

“Storing millions of gallons of fuel in rusty, old tanks just one hundred feet over our aquifer is foolish,” said Sierra Club member and volunteer Erynn Fernandez. “My family and I, like thousands of others, drink this water everyday. These tanks need to be immediately and completely upgraded or relocated because our groundwater is too important to be put at risk like this.”

“Given the proposal to cut the EPA’s budget by 31%, we cannot rely solely on the federal government to protect our environment or the public’s health,” said Townsend. “Updating Health Department rules to fully implement long-standing state law ensures Hawaiʻi has all the authority it needs to protect our environment and the health of our people. Upwards of 225 million gallons of jet fuel is being stored in antiquated, leaky tanks 100 feet above Oʻahu’s most significant drinking water resource. This is unacceptable.”

The Sierra Club presented their findings to Dr. Virginia Pressler, director for the Hawaiʻi Department of Health, in a 68-page petition for rulemaking. Their filing concluded that the state constitution, as well as state statute, require the Department of Health to amend its underground storage tank rules because “existing rules fail to protect the quality of the water that residents drink.”

The state Department of Health has 30 days to act on the Sierra Club’s request, either by starting the public rulemaking process or denying the request.