The U.S. Navy is suspending the use of a World War II-era fuel tank farm above a Hawaii aquifer after petroleum leaked into Honolulu’s water supply and government officials called for shutting down operations.
Petroleum was detected in a water sample from the Red Hill fuel tank farm last week after nearly 1,000 households complained about their tap water smelling like fuel or of ailments like stomach cramps and vomiting. The aquifer that sits above the tank farm supplies nearly 20% of urban Honolulu’s drinking water.
Naturally found underneath the Earth’s surface, petroleum is a fossil that can cause vomiting, diarrhea, headache and confusion if it’s ingested, inhaled or exposed to skin.
After problems at the base and nearby, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro announced the news during a briefing to reporters in Pearl Harbor.
The issue was first announced on Nov. 30 when the Hawaii Department of Health said numerous people using the Navy’s Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, including two elementary schools, complained of gasoline-like odor. The following day, initial test detected petroleum in one water sample, as residents were urged to find alternative water resources for drinking, cooking or oral hygiene.
On Friday, the Navy announced samples from their Red Hill well had petroleum, indicating the the chemical was coming from that well. A spokesperson for the Navy told the Associated Press the well had been closed since Nov. 28 out of an “abundance of caution.”
Hawaii Gov. said that tests confirmed contamination at Joint Base Pearl Harbor–Hickam, indicating that the Navy was not operating the World War II-era facility effectively. A statement was posted to Twitter by David Ige, the governor of Hawaii and his congressional delegation. “We call on the Navy immediately to cease operations at Red Hill, while they face and address this crisis.”
The Red Hill well contains 20 large underground fuel tanks that date back to World War II, according to the Associated Press. The Navy built the tanks, each as tall as a 25-story building, in two rows of 10 inside a mountain ridge three miles inland from Pearl Harbor.
The water supply provides water to around 93,000 people living in Pearl Harbor, as it holds up to 250 million gallons of water.
While the Navy is unable to say what might have led to petroleum getting in the water the Associated Press reported that a fuel-water mixture leaked from a Red Hill fuel tank farm tunnel into a lower tunnel. The Navy stated that no fuel was leaking into the atmosphere during this incident.
Because of the leak, the state’s Board of Water Supply said it had to shut down the Halawa Shaft, which it says is the largest water source on the island of Oahu. The department added because the Red Hill well was shut down, water was instead being sent through the Halawa Shaft.
“We are deeply concerned that we were not notified immediately by the Navy regarding the shut down of their Red Hill water source,” Ernest Lau, manager and chief engineer for the Board of Water Supply, said in a statement.
The Hawaii State Senate In a tweet, Sen. Glenn Wakai believes the issue is “man-made disaster” and the Navy “really has to pick up the pace in which it addresses solutions.”
The Navy said it will flush clean water through the distribution system to clear residual petroleum products from the water, which could take up to 10 days. The Navy also promised to look into how the petroleum entered the water supply.
Hawaii blizzard: Hawaii is under a blizzard alert with snow accumulations of 12 inches and wind gusts up to 100 mph forecast
Due to extreme weather conditions, the water supply was shut down. Heavy rain fell on the islands Monday. Most areas received between 10- and 15 inches of rainfall. According to Hawaii News Now, all islands have been placed under flood watch. Ige advised residents to be prepared for flooding and road closures, as well as damaged homes and landslides.
Contributing: Doyle Rice USA TODAY, The Associated Press