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US Navy Suspends Hawaii Operations

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The US Navy has suspended operations at its fuel storage complex in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, after tests showed that petroleum products were present in local water supplies.

The Red Hill tank farm consists of 20 large underground fuel tanks with a total capacity of 250 million gallons (5.95 million bbl), which were built during World War II. Concerns have long been raised about the potential of water contamination, as the site is above a major aquifer supplying Honolulu.

According to sources, almost 1,000 military households complained about fuel in their tap water in late November and early December 2021. On December 3, 2021, the Navy announced that petroleum had been found in water samples from the Red Hill area, but insisted that the water remains safe for use, and meets Hawaii Department of Health and federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards.

However, in a press briefing with local media, navy secretary Carlos Del Toro apologized for the contamination and announced the suspension. He said that officials are close to determining the cause of the problem, and that the navy will implement new safety actions before resuming operations. Meanwhile, the navy will flush clean water through the distribution system to remove residual fuel.

The announcement followed an order from the Hawaii Department of Health to the Navy for the suspension, which also said that the navy must install a drinking water treatment system at the Red Hill Shaft, submit a work plan to assess system integrity, take corrective action where necessary, and defuel the Red Hill underground storage tanks within 30 days of completing corrective action. The governor of Hawaii, David Ige, and Hawaii’s congressional delegation, said in a statement published on Twitter that the contamination proved that the Navy is “not effectively operating the World War II-era facility and protecting the health and safety of the people of Hawaii”.

Del Toro stated that all options, including a permanent shutdown, are being considered for the site.

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