Wai Ola Alliance Sues Navy for Water Contamination

June 16, 2022

The Navy’s Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility water contamination allegations first came in November 2021, and the water was declared safe to consume March 2022.

The Wai Ola Alliance filed a suit in federal court against the Navy for allegedly contaminating Hawaiians’ water with petroleum discharge for over a month.

The contamination was first brought to attention last November, reported Courthouse News.

The Navy’s Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility water contamination allegations first came in November 2021, and the water was declared safe to consume March 2022.

“The environmental, health, aesthetic, spiritual, economic and recreational interests of Alliance members have been, are being and will continue to be adversely affected by the Navy’s ongoing violations of the Clean Water Act,” said the lawsuit.

The Wai Ola Alliance aims to end to petroleum fuel pollutants at Halawa Stream and Pearl Harbor, formally known as Pu’uloa, calling on the Navy to pay approximately $60,000 per day, per violation, reported Courthouse News.

An emergency order last December, another on May 6, after which the Navy responded with a lawsuit claiming that the state had no authority to make these demands but then later releasing a statement Mar. 7 announcing that the facility will shut down permanently, reported Courthouse News..

“The Alliance decided to have a seat at the table, to ensure that the closure is conducted safely, without more spills, without more contamination of the aquifer, and to make it happen timely way,” said Daniel Cooper, an attorney for the group, reported Courthouse News. “There is no citizen participation in the defueling and clean up process currently. It’s only DOH. And DOH has not done a great job to date in ensuring Red Hill is managed safely and the aquifer is protected. And it is not particularly transparent,” Cooper said. “The Navy and the DOH promised to do the right thing after the spill, and we got nothing.”

Thousands of residents near Red Hill reported serious issues due to the contamination, including: headaches, vomiting, rashes and more, with some being hospitalized and Navy families relocated to temporary housing. Additionally, a class-action lawsuit was filed in December for Hawaiians impacted by the contamination.

The source of the leakage has not been confirmed.

The Red Hill facility has over 70 reported leaks since its completion in 1943, according to the lawsuit, reported Courthouse News. The lawsuit alleges that fuel had been discharged into Halawa Stream and Pearl Harbor even before November 2021.

A system of filters was set up in late December and the DOH granted a general permit to the Navy to discharge up to 50 million gallons of the treated water into Halawa Stream per day. 

An emergency order issued by the Department of Health on May 6 requires the Navy to come up with a plan to safely defuel by Jun. 30 and a closure plan for the Red Hill facility by Nov. 1. However, according to reports submitted by the Navy, the plan would take up to four years to completely drain the tanks.

“The SGH walkthroughs documented extensive corrosion, failed coatings, improper repairs, inadequate pipe supports, inappropriate connections and valving and other failures in operation and management of the Facility by the Navy,” added the lawsuit. “SGH stress modeling found that stresses on existing pipelines at the facility will exceed acceptable levels during defueling at least five locations, with two significantly overstressed by defueling.”

Residents have even been asked by the Honolulu Board of Water Supply to conserve water.

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Cristina Tuser

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