EPA, DOH letter reveals ‘forever chemicals’ were detected in groundwater near Red Hill last year

PFAS, known as “forever chemicals,” was detected in groundwater samples last December, according to a letter from the EPA and state to Navy officials.
Published: Dec. 10, 2022 at 7:14 AM HST|Updated: Dec. 10, 2022 at 10:10 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - PFAS, known as “forever chemicals,” was detected in groundwater samples last December, according to a letter from the EPA and state to Navy officials.

The Nov. 2, 2022 letter obtained by Hawaii News Now, was addressed to the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC Hawaii) and said the chemicals were found as part of monitoring testing.

That testing was part of studies of groundwater impacts after May and November 2021 fuel spills from the Navy’s underground Red Hill fuel facility sickened thousands of people in and around Pearl Harbor.

The letter was written by Kelly Ann Lee, state Health Department Red Hill project coordinator, and Gabriela Carvalho of U.S. EPA Region 9.

They said PFAS was detected in groundwater on Dec. 20 and 27, 2021 “at low parts per trillion concentrations that are below Hawaii State Environmental Action Levels (EALs) but above EPA’s interim health advisory levels.”

SPECIAL SECTION: Navy Water Crisis

“Additional groundwater sampling may be required based on the results of this preliminary investigation,” the letter added.

PFAS has been in the spotlight after the recent spill at Red Hill of firefighting foam concentrate, which contains PFAS. On Nov. 29, some 1,300 gallons of AFFF concentrate was spilled inside a tunnel at the Navy’s underground Red Hill fuel facility.

Researchers have linked PFAS to an increased risk of cancer and it’s been under increasing scrutiny by regulators, lawmakers, and national lawsuits.

Military refuses to release video of toxic spill at Red Hill, sowing new concern

On Tuesday, Board of Water Supply Program Administrator Erwin Kawata said at an emergency meeting organized by the Oahu Water Protectors that the preliminary investigation showed the AFFF leaked from an air relief value after a pump pressurized a pipeline used to distribute the fire suppressant.

Also at that meeting, Kawata revealed a data point he saw in the Navy’s drinking water testing.

He said the Navy collected a water sample from Aliamanu Military Reservation that showed a trace amount of total petroleum hydrocarbon. That sample was collected on Oct. 22.

The amount was below the required action levels while many other samples showed no detection of petroleum. Kawata says he’s concerned chemicals could be coming from the pipes.

“You can have varying concentrations coming out from the pipe that petroleum is still within the pipelines or the plumbing of the house and as well as the Navy’s water distribution system pipeline,” said Kawata.

“It’s not inconceivable that contamination could still be there, but give people the concern that it’s not safe because you can still smell something,” he added.

In news releases, the Navy has repeatedly said water to its Pearl Harbor drinking water system no longer comes from its Red Hill water shaft since it was shut down last year.

Instead, it comes from an uncontaminated Waiawa shaft which is about six miles away. Both the Navy and State Health Department have repeatedly said the water is safe to drink.