The U.S. Navy says there was a functioning security camera nearby when an estimated 1,100 gallons of concentrated firefighting chemicals leaked at Red Hill on Tuesday – a reversal of statements made earlier this week.

At a press conference on Wednesday, Navy Adm. John Wade said there were no cameras positioned at the leak location and he wasn’t aware of any video footage. Operators later reported that they identified two cameras near the leak site, the Navy told Civil Beat after an inquiry Thursday evening.

“Initial reporting to (the joint task force) about the existence of cameras was incorrect,” the Navy said.

Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC) Fleet Logistics Center (FLC) Pearl Harbor employees work on excavating and removing contaminated soil from the spill site as part of NAVFAC Public Works Department and Joint Task Force-Red Hill’s (JTF-RH) hazard material spill recovery operation at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility (RHBFSF) in Halawa, Hawaii, Dec. 1, 2022. Remediation of the spill site through excavation and removal of contaminated surfaces and material was immediately initiated after an estimated 1,100 gallons of aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) concentrate spilled from the fire suppression system at RHBFSF Adit 6 on Nov. 29, 2022. JTF-RH was established by the Department of Defense to ensure the safe and expeditious defueling of the RHBFSF. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Matthew Mackintosh)
The leak occurred inside the Red Hill tunnel, some 40 feet away from the entrance, according to the Navy. Joint Task Force Red Hill/2022

One camera was positioned outside the door of Adit 6, the entrance to the tunnel in which the leak started, according to the Navy. The leak supposedly occurred 40 feet into the tunnel but caused contamination outside the tunnel entrance, officials said on Wednesday. Crews have already packed over 100 drums — 55 gallons each — with contaminated soil and have excavated asphalt and concrete.

That camera can see about 10 feet into the tunnel when the door of Adit 6 is open, the Navy said.

A second camera located inside the tunnel, 200 feet away from the release site, was not functioning and was also not pointed in the direction of the leak, the Navy said.

The incident released hundreds of gallons of concentrated aqueous film forming foam, or AFFF. The fire suppressant contains toxic “forever chemicals” called PFAS that don’t break down in the environment and may cause serious health problems, including liver damage, cancer and birth defects.

Navy officials said on Wednesday they don’t know what time the leak began, or what caused it. They said the incident was discovered by a “rover,” someone who is assigned to patrol the Red Hill tunnels to detect issues.

So far, only joint task force leadership and public affairs staff have seen the footage, according to the Navy. Officials declined to answer questions about what the footage shows, including what time the AFFF comes into view and what it may have captured about the response to the incident.

“The video is currently under review at (Joint Task Force) Red Hill for future release,” the Navy said. “All questions regarding the content of the video will be answered after the video is cleared for release.”

The Hawaii Department of Health has requested to see the footage, according to spokeswoman Kaitlin Arita-Chang. But the Navy said it would not release it to DOH “since it is still under review.”

Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC) Fleet Logistics Center (FLC) Pearl Harbor employees uses tools to relocate contaminated soil onto a wheelbarrow as part of NAVFAC Public Works Department and Joint Task Force-Red Hill’s (JTF-RH) hazard material spill recovery operation at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility (RHBFSF) in Halawa, Hawaii, Dec. 1, 2022. Remediation of the spill site through excavation and removal of contaminated surfaces and material was immediately initiated after an estimated 1,100 gallons of aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) concentrate spilled from the fire suppression system at RHBFSF Adit 6 on Nov. 29, 2022. JTF-RH was established by the Department of Defense to ensure the safe and expeditious defueling of the RHBFSF. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Matthew Mackintosh)
Crews shovel contaminated soil onto a wheelbarrow as part of the Navy’s recovery operation at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility. Joint Task Force Red Hill/2022

The Navy said it intends to release the exterior camera footage to the public, but the agency did not specify when that would happen. The footage will likely become part of an investigation that will be led by an as-yet-undetermined entity.

“(The Red Hill Joint Task Force) will appoint an investigating officer to conduct a thorough investigation into the Red Hill AFFF release in the coming days,” the Navy said.

Requests for documents and video footage related to earlier leaks of fuel at Red Hill have been held up in a legal review process at the Pentagon called “FOIA Litigation Coordination.” A request for video footage of the Red Hill fuel leak in November 2021 that contaminated the Pearl Harbor area’s drinking water still hasn’t been fulfilled, even though Civil Beat obtained it elsewhere and published it months ago.

Wayne Tanaka, the executive director of the Sierra Club of Hawaii, said the footage of the AFFF leak should be released as soon as possible.

“We absolutely need to see what’s on there to understand the full extent of what we may be dealing with,” he said. “I’m very concerned about their ability to clean up what’s been spilled… Anything they miss is going to be out there, not for years, but for centuries.”

The Navy said there are currently 57 closed-circuit cameras that support fuel operations at Red Hill and Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam. Of those, 37 are located at Red Hill, and 30 of those are operational. But the video feed is not monitored 24/7, the Navy said. 

“The cameras are not monitored unless needed to support a current operation,” the Navy said. “No operations were ongoing at the time of the release.”

On Thursday, the Hawaii Department of Health approved a plan for the Navy to take water and soil samples and test for PFAS, the Navy said in a press release. The plan includes testing nine groundwater monitoring wells for the chemicals.

The Navy plans to remove approximately 3,000 cubic feet of soil from the site and is conducting a technical evaluation to determine how to remediate the chemicals from the concrete inside the Red Hill tunnel.

Last year, the health department ordered the Navy to remove all the fuel from Red Hill, which still holds about 100 million gallons of petroleum, and the Navy has said that work should be completed by July 2024.

But this latest incident threatens to delay that effort. Repairs needed to safely defuel are suspended as the facility is left without a functioning fire suppression system, the Navy said. Federal firefighters are on hand in case of an emergency. 

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