Navy’s toxic fire suppressant foam spill delays Red Hill defueling plan

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Published: Dec. 1, 2022 at 6:03 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 1, 2022 at 10:33 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Red Hill defueling plan has been halted to focus on cleaning up the toxic fire suppressant foam spill, the Navy announced Thursday evening.

They did not say how long the defueling process could be delayed.

The cause of the 1,100-gallon spill of firefighting foam concentrate at the Navy’s Red Hill fuel facility on Tuesday is still unknown, the military said.

As of Thursday, the Navy said more than 85% of the contaminated soil has been excavated.

“Most likely we are going to go down 1 to 2 feet in depth to make sure we are absolutely certain in all locations that we’ve recovered the solvent,” said Capt. Cameron Geertsema, commanding officer at NAVFAC Pacific.

Pat Elder, an activist with Military Poisons, said the spill should leave people angry.

“They should be asking questions about the transparency of the United States Navy here in Hawaii,” he said.

Firefighting foam is called Aqueous Film Forming Foam or AFFF.

It has forever chemicals called PFAS, which don’t break down.

PFAS have been used widely in nonstick pans for decades, but researchers have linked PFAS to health problems including liver damage, lower immunity in kids and certain cancers.

Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency warned tiny amounts could be harmful.

“The health effects are much more severe and much more concerning so EPA has already put out health advisories that are extreme low levels,” said Erwin Kawata, Board of Water Supply program administrator.

The state and military say the Pearl Harbor water supply is safe to drink.

The Board of Water Supply, the civilian water system, says its water remains safe to drink as well.

BWS had announced PFAS was detected at very low levels in two BWS wells around two years ago, but health officials determined it was not a threat and the chemical is no longer detected.

AFFF is considered the most effective at fighting fuel fires.

In 2015, firefighters used up their stockpile of the AFFF to battle a blaze of old cars at Campbell Industrial Park.

“They used all the AFFF that they had and they used it on that fire. So they no longer have any stockpile. No more Triple-F,” said Bobby Lee, president of Hawaii Fire Fighters Association.

Lee says there are national lawsuits of sick firefighters involving AFFF. but none here.

He says the Honolulu Fire Department stopped using it in the early 2000s.

State firefighters still use the foam, but are not allowed to train with it.

The Navy also announced the Department of Health has approved their sampling and testing plan which includes analysis of nine groundwater monitoring wells for “forever chemicals.”