• Monica Cruz

Hawaiians demand justice after pollution of water source from navy facility

On December 10, the Hawaii Department of Health announced that the Navy found gasoline and diesel-range hydrocarbons in the Red Hill shaft. For eight decades, the Navy has stored upwards of 200 million gallons of fuel only about 100 feet above an underground aquifer

Activists with the Oʻahu Water Protectors protest outside the Hawaii state capitol building on December 10. Photo: Twitter

The US Navy has poisoned the largest water source on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. On December 10, the Hawaii Department of Health announced that the Navy found gasoline and diesel-range hydrocarbons in the Red Hill shaft. The levels detected were up to 350 times what the State considers safe for drinking water.


For eight decades, the Navy has stored upwards of 200 million gallons of fuel only about 100 feet above the underground aquifer that supplies 77% of the island’s water. This public health disaster has been years in the making, as the tanks have been leaking on a regular basis for decades.


The Red Hill shaft is one of three wells run by the Navy near the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam military base. The wells serve military families in the base housing and local residents, as well as several elementary schools and day care centers.


State officials say that around 93,000 people have been affected.

Residents have reported symptoms like respiratory problems, headaches, sore throat, stomach pain, diarrhea and vomiting. The Department of Health has advised residents to avoid “using the water for drinking, cooking, bathing, dishwashing, laundry or oral hygiene (brushing teeth, etc.)” if they smell a fuel odor in their water.


Petrochemicals in water can cause leukemia, miscarriages and birth defects.


Navy denies and lies on decades-long water contamination crisis


Since the Red Hill facility was built in 1943, it has recorded at least 73 fuel leaks totaling 180,000 gallons, according to the environmentalist organization the Sierra Club. The Navy disputes these numbers.


According to a 2018 report by a Navy consultant, there is a one in three chance of a leak of up to 30,000 gallons of fuel at any time, in any given year. The Navy has attempted to downplay the report, telling regulators that it disagrees with the findings.


A 2009 analysis by the Navy predicted that a leak of 16,000 gallons could contaminate the military’s own water supply with a carcinogen called benzene. This year alone, almost 16,000 gallons of fuel and fuel-laced water have leaked at Red Hill.


The most-publicized leak happened in 2014, when 27,000 gallons leaked from one of the tanks. The Navy tried to blame it on a mistake made by a contractor, but a systems analyst revealed that alarms signaling a leak were ringing for a month and were ignored by officials.


The Environmental Protection Agency and Hawaii Department of Health implemented a performance improvement plan requiring the Navy to upgrade its facility to better protect the aquifer by 2037. The Navy has openly stated that it has no intention of meeting that deadline.


When a pipeline connected to the Red Hill facility was found to be leaking to Pearl Harbor earlier this year, officials hid the information for months, citing “political concerns.”


Last week, Hawaiian Governor David Ige ordered the Navy to suspend all activity at Red Hill and drain the tanks, which the Navy objected to.


The Navy claims that the site is critical for the “mission readiness” of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command with what the US military has considered to be “increasing aggression” from Russia and China.

Shelley Muneoka of Oʻahu Water Protectors told the Empire Files, “I think they are used to getting away with whatever they want to without repercussions.” She continued, “For us it’s not a small thing that they are using our islands to practice killing other people. We’re not ok with that. I think people are really shocked to know that they are willing to risk the health of the people here as well, who they claim to protect.”


This was originally published on Peoples Dispatch.