The commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet has ordered an investigation into two fuel spills this year related to the Navy’s Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility and whether the two incidents are related.

Adm. Samuel Paparo ordered a command investigation into the Nov. 20 release of 14,000 gallons of water and fuel from a fire suppression drain line a quarter-mile downhill from the fuel tank farm, according to a press release on Monday.

Adm. Samuel Paparo (left), commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, ordered a command investigation into two fuel spills associated with the Navy's Red Hill fuel facility.
Adm. Samuel Paparo, left, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, ordered a command investigation into two fuel spills associated with the Navy’s Red Hill fuel facility. U.S. Navy photo

He also ordered a new review of a pipeline fuel leak that occurred on May 6. That event was already investigated by the Naval Petroleum Office of the Naval Supply Systems Command, which determined more than 1,600 gallons of fuel burst from a pipe due to human error and that some of it likely reached the environment.

Rear Adm. Christopher Cavanaugh, director of U.S. Pacific Fleet Maritime Headquarters, will investigate both incidents starting immediately, an agency press release said. His efforts will focus on the causes of both releases and whether “the fuel found in the Nov. 20 release was related to the May 6 release,” according to the release.

In a letter to Cavanaugh, Paparo listed three priorities, the press release said: Ensuring there are no additional spills, ensuring that Red Hill operations are environmentally safe and secure and identifying the root causes and remedial actions to safeguard the local environment and ensure this does not happen again.

“In conducting your investigation, you will determine the facts and circumstances regarding what caused both incidents; calculate the quantity of fuel that may have been released into the environment; identify the role and impact of material failures, technical competence, and human error; evaluate whether reporting of both incidents was timely, accurate and thorough; and recommend appropriate remedial actions,” he wrote.

The announcement of the investigations comes as hundreds of military families who live near Pearl Harbor are reporting that their tap water smells like fuel and that they’re suffering from a litany of physical ailments, including rashes, itching, aches and vomiting.

The Hawaii Department of Health advised families serviced by the Navy’s Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam water system on Monday not to drink or use their water while it works with the Navy to test samples and determine the cause of the issue.

Initial DOH test results were inconclusive and did not detect a contaminant, the department said.

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