Navy Investigation Blames 'Complacency' for Leak That Poisoned Water

Pearl Harbor trouble stemmed from leak at Hawaii fuel storage facility
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jul 1, 2022 1:00 PM CDT
Navy Admits Failures Poisoned Pearl Harbor Water
Adm. Sam Paparo, US Pacific Fleet commander, speaks at a news conference at Camp H.M. Smith, Hawaii on Thursday, June 30, 2022.   (AP Photo/Audrey McAvoy)

The Navy has admitted that a very long list of errors and failures led to a fuel leak that poisoned thousands of people in Hawaii. A long-awaited report released Thursday sets out what the Honolulu Star-Advertiser calls "operational and leadership failures, communication breakdowns and cavalier attitudes toward oversight" that caused Pearl Harbor drinking water to become contaminated last year. Some 4,000 families, most of them military, were moved to hotels for months after the November spill at the massive World War II-era Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in the hills above the Navy base. Around 6,000 people reported symptoms including nausea and rashes.

According to the report, 21,000 gallons of fuel were spilled in May last year due to an operator error during a fuel transfer. It spilled into a fire suppression line, causing it to sag and was released when a cart rammed the line six months later. Officials incorrectly thought it had all been sopped up when 5,000 gallons remained. "Meanwhile, over the course of eight days, that fuel enters into this French drain that is under the concrete and seeps slowly and quietly into the Red Hill well. And that fuel into the Red Hill well is then pumped into the Navy system," Adm. Sam Paparo, the commander of the US Pacific Fleet, said Thursday, per the AP.

The report blamed bad training and leadership and said the lack of "critical thinking" at key moments "exemplified a culture of complacency" at the facility. Paparo called for a review of operations at 48 other defense fuel storage facilities worldwide. "We cannot assume Red Hill represents an outlier, and similar problems may exist at other locations." The military has agreed to comply with Hawaii's order to close the facility, but it says it can't be fully defueled before the end of 2024. US Rep. Kaiali'i Kahele says the Navy should act sooner to remove "more than 100 million gallons of toxic fuel that remain perched over Oahu’s sole source aquifer. (More Hawaii stories.)

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