Navy halts Hawaii fuel tank operations amid investigation into tap water

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HONOLULU – The Navy will cease operations on fuel storage tanks atop an aerial aquifer until it completes its investigation into how petroleum got into tap water.

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In a memo on Tuesday, Navy Secretary Carlos del Toro said that “corrective action will be taken as expeditiously as possible.”

The Navy previously said it was suspending use of a massive fuel storage complex near Pearl Harbor, following complaints that tap water smelled like fuel and made some people sick.


But the Navy also informed Hawaii officials that it was opposing a state order that demanded that the suspension remain in effect until independent assessors ensure that drinking water is safe. Appropriate action is taken.

State officials want the Navy to treat contaminated drinking water and extract fuel from 20 underground storage tanks on a massive scale at a complex called the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.

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Hawaii Health Department spokeswoman Caitlin Arita-Chang said she was seeking comment from state officials about the memo.

The Navy will consult with an independent third party to assess the tank facility’s operations and system integrity and develop a plan for necessary repairs, said the memo, which was made public on Wednesday.

“The recent incident at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, in which military housing units and other facilities received tap water containing petroleum products, is not acceptable,” the memorandum said.

The Navy’s water system serves about 93,000 people in and around Pearl Harbor and about 1,000 military families have complained about their tap water. Some said they suffered from convulsions and vomiting after drinking it recently.

Testing last week revealed that the presence of petroleum in the water comes from a well near the underground fuel tank complex that has been the source of several fuel leaks over the years.

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