HONOLULU — Hawaii’s congressional delegation on Thursday asked House and Senate leaders to make sure the military spends whatever money it has available to address the contamination of Pearl Harbor drinking water by a Navy fuel storage facility that has leaked petroleum.
“We are deeply concerned that despite this being a crisis of its own making, the Navy may be reluctant to spend the money required to meet the moment because of concerns about unknown future emergency needs or simply not wanting to own the long-term costs associated with this crisis,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter.
U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono signed the letter, along with U.S. Reps. Ed Case and Kaiali’i Kahele. All are Democrats.
They addressed the letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and the chairs of congressional appropriations committees.
They asked congressional leaders for their commitment that Congress would provide “robust funding” to support improved safety and operations for the aging tanks and pipeline network at the World War II-era Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.
The next “must-pass” spending bill in Congress should include money for the Navy, the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies to monitor, detect and prevent fuel leaks, they said.
In recent weeks, tests conducted for the Navy and Hawaii Department of Health have detected petroleum in the Navy’s tap water system. Residents in military housing near Pearl Harbor last month began complaining that their tap water smelled like fuel or chemicals. Some have suffered from nausea, diarrhea, rashes and oral chemical burns.
The lawmakers noted the military has had to put 3,500 families in temporary housing.
Fuel has so far been only been detected in the Navy’s water system, which serves 93,000 people. But Honolulu’s water utility is concerned leaked fuel could taint its water supply and an aquifer that it shares with the Navy. This aquifer normally supplies 20% of the water consumed in urban Honolulu.
Last week, the Navy said officials believe a one-time spill of jet fuel inside an access tunnel on Nov. 20 contaminated one of its wells and the tap water. Officials said they don’t believe leaking fuel tanks tainted the water.
Navy divers have been trying to remove jet fuel from the water shaft where petroleum was detected. Navy officials said they will also flush clean water through the overall water system and water systems in all homes. They said they hope to complete that process by Christmas.
The Navy has suspended using the Red Hill fuel storage facility but has said it will challenge an order from the state health department to remove fuel from the tanks.
The Honolulu City Council on Wednesday unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Navy to immediately defuel, remove and relocate the fuel storage facility.
All branches of the military use fuel from the tanks, which were built underground into the side of a mountain ridge near Pearl Harbor in the early 1940s.