Department of Health, U.S. Navy at odds over recommendation for Red Hill tanks

Department of Health, U.S. Navy at odds over recommendation for Red Hill tanks
Published: Dec. 11, 2014 at 10:44 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 11, 2014 at 10:45 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The tanks in the Navy's Red Hill Fuel Storage Facility are constructed of quarter-inch steel covered with concrete. In January, one of the underground tanks leaked 27,000 gallons of jet fuel. The Health Department believes each tank should have another wall of protection.

"Should the interior wall that's holding the petroleum spring a leak, the petroleum will be contained within the outer wall and can be instantly measured and removed," Deputy Director Gary Gill said.

But Navy Region Hawaii's chief engineer said rushing to double-wall the tanks could lead to problems. It would be difficult to inspect a tank if it's enclosed.

"How do you manage accelerated corrosion which could occur if you had water or moisture collect in that space right now?" Capt. Mike Williamson said.

The Department of Health is leading a task force that's finalizing a report on the spill. The committee will recommend what should be done to minimize risk to Oahu's drinking water should another spill happen.

"Any single-walled tank, should it rupture, regardless of how carefully you manage it and maintain it, when it ruptures, what leaves the tank goes straight into the environment," Gill said.

The tanks are over 200-feet tall and 100-feet in diameter. Service stations double-wall their fuel tanks. But Williamson said that doesn't mean the technique is perfect.

"They sit in the ground for 20 years. And then they pull them out and put a new one in to last for twenty more years because the insurance companies won't insure them beyond a 20-year period," he said.

Williamson feels increasing inspections, checking for leaks, and monitoring fuel levels are options that should be considered.

"It's not as simple as simply putting a coating, or putting a tank within a tank inside these tanks.," he said.

But the Health Department said short of shutting down the 70-year-old Red Hill facility, secondary containment may be the best option.

"The best possible way to reduce risk of spill from these underground tanks is to have two walls," Gill said.

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