It took the Department of Defense (DOD) 3 years to begin work on shutting down the tanks after the decision was made. The decision to close and remove the original 33 underground fuel storage tanks and construct six new above-ground tanks was made in 2018 but work did not begin to close down the facility until July 2021. Each of the six new, above ground tanks will be able to contain 5.2 million gallons of JP-5 carrier jet fuel or F-76 marine diesel fuel in 64-foot-tall, 140-foot-wide tanks constructed of welded steel columns with supported fixed cone roofs. Approximately 75 million gallons are stored at Manchester Fuel Depot now. At that rate, it would take eighteen+ years to defuel and close Red Hill, assuming it holds 180 million gallons of fuel.
On March 7, 2022 Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered the defueling and closure of the 80-year-old leaking 250 million gallon jet fuel tanks at Red Hill on the island of O’ahu, Hawai’i. The order came 95 days after a catastrophic 19,000-gallon leak of jet fuel into one of the drinking water wells operated by the U.S. Navy. The drinking water of over 93,000 persons was contaminated, including the water of many military and civilian families living on military bases. Hundreds went to emergency rooms for treatment of rashes, headaches, vomiting, diarrhea and seizures. The military placed thousands of military families in hotels Waikiki resorts for over 3 months while civilians were left to find their own accommodations.
Bobby Jones has been fishing on the Neuse River since he was a young boy but he doesn’t fish in the river anymore because he says the fish are poisoned. It’s a hell of a thing. Bobby says PFAS are bad, but it’s only part of a larger story of the contamination of the Neuse River and its fish. The four of us met, along with my brother Mike, at the local Starbucks over a cup of coffee and blueberry muffins. We discussed exactly where to collect samples of the Neuse River as close as we could get to the careless use of fire-fighting foam near Building 4735 on the Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. These pursuits are always logistical challenges. Obviously, we wanted to get as close as we could get to documented releases of the carcinogens on base.
In late November, military families were sickened by fuel ingestion, including babies with rashes, after the tap water source for some 93,000 people in the Pearl Harbor area was contaminated. The military initially denied any problems, then confirmed that recent leaks at the Navy’s underground Red Hill fuel storage facility were to blame and promised to clean up the mess. It suspended operations at the World War II-era tank farm but spent months fighting efforts to close the facility altogether, fending off criticism during public hearings and arguing the state lacked the power to enforce an order to drain the fuel. Then last week, the Department of Defense reversed itself and agreed to shut it all down.
The slow roll has begun. With transparency thrown out the window, the Navy’s announced on January 26 that it would release only the summary of the report on how jet fuel got into the water supply. “When the review is complete, we expect the Navy to provide a summary of the conclusions in a public release,” the chief of information for the Navy declared. The Navy has released full reports of previous leaks from the Red Hill tanks. The full report was given to the Commander of the US Navy’s Pacific Command, 12 days ago on January 14 and the completed report was only acknowledged on January 24. The Sierra Club’s attorney David Kimo Frankel said, “The Navy continues to stonewall the public.”
Nearly two months after tests revealed tainted water coming from the faucets at more than a half dozen public schools, health officials say it’s still not safe to use the tap. The schools are all on the Navy’s water lines, which are contaminated with fuel from the Red Hill underground storage facility. There is no timeline for when the taps will be turned back on. To get by, school staff have been hauling bottles of water into classrooms and setting up sanitation stations so students can wash their hands. All the disruption has even the youngest keiki asking questions. “They asked me why did they put the tanks by the water. Didn’t they know it was poison. Who is going to save the water? And how can we save the water,” said kindergarten teacher Malia Rossetti.
In November, a huge underground naval fuel storage facility at Red Hill near Honolulu burst, leaking 14,000 gallons of jet fuel, contaminating the water supply, poisoning scores of people and driving thousands of Hawaiian families from their homes. The state’s attorney general, David Day, has alleged that the military has essentially no control over the safety of the enormous depot, which holds 250 million gallons of fuel. Day remarked that the state had a “ticking time bomb” on its hands, and that further contamination of its precious water supply was all but inevitable. The tanks sit just feet above the island’s largest aquifer. And this incident is merely the latest in a long list showing the American empire’s callous disregard for the civilian population of Hawaii, as it puts military needs before the people or the environment.
Upwards of 100 water protectors rallied outside the Hawaii State Capitol in Honolulu on Dec. 10. Their greatest fears had just come true. The U.S. Navy had kept decaying fuel storage tanks just 100 feet above a water aquifer that functioned as the main source of drinking water on the island of O’ahu. Those tanks recently leaked jet fuel into the aquifer, poisoning thousands of people and creating irreparable damage to O’ahu’s water supply.
Activists with CodePink, in solidarity with Hawaii-based water protectors, on Friday projected images on a submarine tower outside the Navy museum in Washington, D.C., calling for a shutdown of a military fuel storage facility associated with contamination of Oahu drinking water. Messages displayed on the USS Balao Conning Tower included "Shut down Red Hill tanks," "Demilitarize Hawaii," and "Navy is poison." In a Saturday statement, CodePink said that the "Navy's failure to protect its sailors, their families, and the broader community is further justification of the need to demilitarize and decolonize Hawai'i and serves as a testament to the military's prioritization of 'business as usual' over the health and wellbeing of the people."
On December 6, after all hell broke loose at each of the five town hall meetings held over several days by the U.S. Navy to try to calm military families who have been drinking and bathing in fuel contaminated water, the Governor of the State of Hawai’i issued an order to the Navy to suspend the operation of the massive jet fuel tanks and within 30 days “defuel” or remove the fuel out of the tanks! Governor Ige said the public had lost confidence in the Navy. For the past week, rather than providing accurate information about the drinking water contamination, senior military leadership were caught in their own webs of inaccurate information given to the military families affected by fuel in the water…and given to the State of Hawai’i.
The long citizen protest underscoring the dangers from the U.S. Navy’s 80-year-old leaking 20 jet fuel tanks at Red Hill each tank 20 stories tall and holding a total of 225 million gallons of jet fuel came to a head over the weekend with Navy families around the large Pearl Harbor Naval Base being sickened by fuel in their home tap water. The Navy’s huge jet fuel tank complex is only 100 feet above Honolulu’s water supply and has been leaking with regularity. The Navy command was slow to alert the community while the State of Hawai’i quickly issued a notice not to drink the water. Foster Village community members stated that they were smelling fuel after the November 20, 2021 release of 14,000 gallons of water and fuel from a fire suppression drain line a quarter-mile downhill from the fuel tank farm.
While the U.S. Navy continues to argue that U.S. national security requires that its 80-year-old leaking 20 story underground jet fuel tanks remain open, I argue the opposite--that for U.S. national security reasons the 200-million-gallon facility be closed down before a catastrophic leak destroys the potable water supply for 400,00 residents of Oahu. Once the aquifer is contaminated by a predicted major fuel leak, it cannot be flushed out or be rehabilitated. U.S. Navy officials have said that the water from a contaminated aquifer would have to be filtered either by a massive filtration system that does not yet exist or individual households would have to filter the water at home. The Navy does not have a filtration system on the island of Oahu and citizens do not have sufficient bottled water or individual household filtration systems should there be a catastrophic leak of toxic jet fuel into our water supply.
Testing done in October 2020 showed rockfish containing 23,100 parts per trillion (ppt) of a variety of per-and-poly fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) , crabs containing 6,650 ppt, and oysters having 2,070 ppt of the toxins. See the results here. The rockfish was caught in Cornfield Harbor in the Potomac River and the oyster and crab were collected from St. Inigoes Creek in Saint Mary’s County. Public health officials say people should not be consuming more than 1 part per trillion of these toxins per day. The seafood was taken from waters that are close to the Webster Outlying Field of the Patuxent River Naval Air Station where the chemicals were used in firefighting exercises over many years.
Water is Life – it is where we come from, who we are (both in a base physical sense and philosophically as fluid beings in space and time), how we and the ecosystems we depend on survive. And therefore, it is also of prime interest to a capitalist system desperate to commodify everything and everyone. Water is literally a traded commodity on the stock market , perhaps the most prime example of how our system treats finite entities like water as if they were infinitely marketable while treating infinite 1s and 0s on a screen as if they were essential to our survival as a species.
Last month, independent testing of oysters in the St. Mary’s River and St. Inigoes Creek was performed on behalf of the St. Mary’s River Watershed Association and financially supported by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER. Oysters in the St. Mary’s River and in St. Inigoes Creek were found to contain more than 1,000 parts per trillion (ppt) of the highly toxic chemicals. Oysters were analyzed by Eurofins, a world leader in PFAS testing. The Harvard School of Public Health and leading scientific institutions around the world tell us not to consume more than 1 ppt of these substances daily.