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.

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