Contaminated groundwater puts thousands at risk as the U.S. Navy refuses to cease operations at a perpetually leaking fuel storage facility on water-poor Oahu.

The Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility was built in the middle of WW2, inside the ridge of a dead volcano near Pearl Harbor, on the Hawaiian island Oahu. The 20 steel-lined tanks installed in the mountain can hold a quarter of a billion gallons of fuel, enough to supply the world’s entire complement of aircraft carriers several times over.

Those 20 tanks sit above a natural aquifer that supplies a quarter of the water consumed in Honolulu, Hawaii’s largest city. They are also only a mile away from the Halawa Shaft, the well maintained by the Honolulu Board of Water Supply to provide 20 percent of all drinking water in the region. The naval facility also has their own well on the same site as the fuel tanks; the Red Hill water shaft. It is one of three wells providing water to the base’s 93,000 residents.

Twice in 2021, the Bulk Fuel Storage has reported major fuel links. In October, they were fined several hundred thousand dollars by the state for negligent maintenance, but that hasn’t apparently helped matters.

In late November, military households began to complain about a fuel-like odor in their tap water, and some reported gastrointestinal symptoms from drinking it. On November 29th, the commander of the base told families that the water was safe to drink, but investigation did not begin until the next day. On December 5th, commander Erik Spitzer apologized for his prior statements. The contaminated groundwater had been found to contain 350 times the safe level of petroleum products.

The Navy has evacuated over a thousand affected households on their base, and the Hawaiian Department of Health, concerned for the other hundred thousand people who drink the water from the same aquifer, has ordered that the Navy begin to defuel the tanks. The Navy has suspended fueling operations at Red Hill, but is challenging the order to defuel.

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