HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Worried about the potential for a devastating drinking water contamination, the Hawaii State Department of Health is asking the U.S. Navy to move the fuel tanks it has stored beneath Red Hill.
“I worry about an earthquake or something that would lead to a catastrophic spill,” said Bruce Anderson, director of the state Department of Health.
A huge spill, Anderson warned Thursday, would contaminate the aquifers below. The Navy still has 20 underground tanks at Red Hill, containing 20 million gallons of fuel each ― and Anderson doubts the government could clean up quickly enough after such a disaster.
“The long term risks are significant, and we want to see those tanks moved eventually,” he said.
Anderson cautions that there’s no immediate threat, and admits that the state has no authority to order a move. But incidents like one in 2014, where 27,000 gallons of fuel leaked from one of the tanks, continue to give pause.
That spill did not contaminate the water supply, but the Honolulu Board of Water Supply says if a spill was large enough it would have to have to shut down the surrounding wells as a precaution — impacting the water supply from Halawa to Hawaii Kai.
That’s why the Sierra Club has, for years, been asking the Navy to decommission and subsequently move the tanks.
“These tanks are 80 years old. 200 million gallons of fuel, a few feet over our aquifer. Tanks are not built to last forever,” said Jodi Malinoski, the Sierra Club’s local public policy advocate.
The Navy says it's committed to ensuring the drinking water remains safe.
“We work every day to ensure this important facility is monitored and operated to protect against any release of fuel,” said Randy Young, counsel for Navy Region Hawaii.
The Navy says it plans to install advanced leak detection technology before the end of next year, but lawmakers still wonder about the integrity of the tanks.
“Were there any tanks that holes were detected?” asked Rep. John Mizuno.
"Yes, there are some throughables we've discovered in the upper dome. That is an area above the fuel tank that is above the fuel storage," said Mark Manfredi, Red Hill Program Director for the U.S. Navy.
The Navy is working on long-range plans that include possibly moving the tanks, but says it’s not committing to any one option. It’s an option that would take years and cost millions of dollars.