New data from the U.S. Navy shows heightened levels of fuel contaminants in the soil and groundwater around the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility last year, the Hawaii Department of Health announced on Tuesday.

Samples collected between May 12, 2021 and Jan. 3 of this year indicate heightened levels of total petroleum hydrocarbons, or TPH, in multiple areas, DOH said in a press release. The detections have mostly been of TPH-Oil and TPH-Diesel.

Deputy Secretary of Defense Dr. Kathleen Hicks tours Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility on Dec. 14, 2021.
The Red Hill fuel facility, located just 100 feet about the drinking water aquifer, has leaked for decades. U.S. Navy/2021

Results from one monitoring well located makai of the tanks, RHMW01R, showed levels of TPH-d that exceed state drinking water safety limits in October and November, the data shows.

DOH did not identify what correlation, if any, the results have to the contamination that impacted the drinking water of 93,000 Navy water customers.

“The Red Hill facility has been the site of multiple fuel spills going back decades,” the department said. “The recent detections are intermittent and do not present a clear pattern in occurrence or concentration.”

The department said that areas experienced elevated detections of fuel products but then dropped to normal levels before increasing again days or weeks later.

DOH noted that the Navy and Honolulu Board of Water Supply both stopped pumping water from the aquifer in the area around Red Hill late last year. That pumping stoppage has affected the movement of groundwater and could impact the monitoring well data, DOH said.

“We are moving forward methodically based on science to protect public health and the environment,” Kathleen Ho, deputy director of environmental health, said in a statement.

“While the data we have is neither complete nor conclusive, we are working with our partners to learn more and take appropriate measures to protect our water resources. People’s lives, and the health of our ecosystem are at stake, and we need more data before drawing conclusions.”

DOH said it is working with its partners to increase the amount of data being collected and analyzed so it can get a better understanding of the fuel’s environmental impact.

“This data will provide more sampling points, subsurface geologic information, and insight into movement of groundwater and contaminants,” the department said.

The department also released new data from the Navy’s Red Hill shaft, the well that the Navy said was contaminated with jet fuel.

Ho emphasized that the drinking water for civilian residents of Oahu is safe to drink.

“The long-term remedy to this issue is to render the Red Hill facility safe by removing fuel from the underground storage tanks,” she said. “It is imperative that the Navy comply with DOH’s order.”

Click here to view the updated data. Future reports will be published regularly on Tuesdays, DOH said.

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