Navy to drain Hawaii tank system blamed for tainted water

Jennifer Sinco Kelleher
Associated Press

Honolulu — The U.S. Navy will comply with Hawaii's order to remove fuel from a massive underground storage tank facility near Pearl Harbor blamed for contaminating drinking water, officials said Tuesday.

The Navy is making preparations to defuel the facility, Rear Adm. Blake Converse said Tuesday during a U.S. House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness hearing.

The Navy’s water system serves some 93,000 people in residential homes, offices, elementary schools and businesses in and around Pearl Harbor.

A tunnel inside the Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on Jan. 26, 2018.

Starting in late November, about 1,000 people complained that their tap water smelled like fuel or reported physical ailments such as nausea and rashes after ingesting it.

After petroleum was detected in a drinking well, Hawaii ordered the Navy to drain fuel from the tanks to protect Oahu's drinking water. The Navy contested the order, prompting a December hearing before a deputy state attorney general.

The hearings officer concluded the tanks were “ ticking time bomb” and that the order needed to be upheld.

The Red Hill facility holds 20 giant underground tanks built into the side of a mountain during World War II. Each tank is roughly the height of a 25-story building. Collectively, they can hold up to 250 million gallons (946 million liters) of fuel, though two of the tanks are now empty.

Converse said Tuesday a commander last week directed compliance with the order.

“It is our full expectation that the Navy will follow the law by complying with the final order,” said Katie Arita-Chang, a spokesperson for the Hawaii Department of Health.