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Navy tests confirm petroleum contamination in Red Hill drinking water well

The Navy on Thursday night announced its tests have confirmed the presence of petroleum in the Red Hill drinking water well.
Published: Dec. 2, 2021 at 8:10 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 3, 2021 at 10:59 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Nearly five days after military households first reported their tap water smelled like fuel and was making them sick, the Navy on Thursday night announced its tests have confirmed the presence of petroleum in the Red Hill drinking water well.

“We have pretty conclusive indications that there are volatile petroleum products in the well,” said U.S. Pacific Fleet Deputy Commander Blake Converse, at a virtual town hall on Thursday night.

“And we determined that it is the likely source of the contamination of our water distribution system across the Navy system.”

The Navy shut down its Red Hill pumping shaft Sunday night, but failed to inform the public.

“The Red Hill shaft was closed for two reasons. The first reason — it was the closest shaft to folks who reported petroleum smells, sheens in their water and taste in their water so the logical source was the Red Hill shaft,” Converse said. “Red Hill shaft is closer to petroleum sources that we’re experiencing.”

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Tests conducted “throughout the rest of the Navy water distribution system” have come back negative for petroleum, he added.

That’s in contrast with the results from the state Health Department, which found petroleum in a water sample from Red Hill Elementary School.

And in a sample HNN sent to a private lab, technicians detected the presence of diesel.

Meanwhile, the Board of Water Supply has said its systems are not impacted by the contamination. But officials also expressed concern the contamination in the Navy’s water could spread.

Navy officials said by identifying the source of the contamination, they hoped to be able to move quickly to “develop a plan to restore the potable water system to EPA standards.”

In a news release late Thursday, the Navy said the Red Hill sample contained levels of petroleum hydrocarbons “roughly four to 10 times below the Hawaii Department of Health Environmental Action Level.” The Navy did not release the actual sample results, however.

Converse added there is also work underway to determine how the petroleum got in the well in the first place. Since the contamination reports first arose, there’s been intense scrutiny on the Navy’s Red Hill Fuel Storage Facility — whose underground tanks are situated above the aquifer.

The tainted water has prompted widespread concern among government officials.

On Thursday morning, U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele called the threat a crisis “of astronomical proportions” and called on the Navy to move more quickly to identify the problem and fix it.

State lawmakers had a similar message for the Navy.

So far, it appears only customers of the Navy water system are affected, but the Board of Water Supply draws from that same aquifer.

The state Department of Health said Thursday night it had received the results of the Navy’s tests and was not changing its recommendation to residents.

The Health Department has urged those on the Navy water line not to drink water from the tap. Those who smell fuel are being told not to use the water for household chores or bathing.

This story will be updated.

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