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Red Hill: The Poisoning of Pearl Harbor

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May 1, 2023
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There are plenty of service members who can vouch for the integrity of military grade equipment being faulty and insufficient. MREs being unfit for human consumption to moldy barracks halls, military infrastructure is far from what Hollywood likes to make it to be. The military is also not one to shy away from poisoning its own, be it burn pits or ruining water. Unfortunately, the latter was recently the case at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in late November 2021.

According to the EPA, “Approximately 93,000 U.S. Navy water system users were impacted by the contaminated drinking water, many of whom relocated to temporary housing during the drinking water crisis.”

Negligence, Lawsuits, and Coverups

Red Hill is an underground fuel facility located in Oahu, Hawaii. The fuel facility was developed in 1943. Logistically, the location was selfish on the part of the military. The massive amounts of fuel would be located directly above a freshwater reservoir, responsible for supplying the island of Oahu adequate drinking water. Putting a fuel facility directly above such an important water source would require that facility to be perfect, to never have any issues in order to ensure that the island of Oahu remains healthy. 

Of course that’s not what happened. 

In 2014, a major fuel spill contaminated the reservoir and drew major attention from local and national environmental safety organizations. Though the incident in 2014 was addressed and handled by military officials, Rear Admiral Robert Chadwick gave a stern warning, claiming “that type of event could not happen again…” 

In May 2021, though with precautionary systems in place, a fuel leak burst from the storage facility. 19,000 gallons of JP-5 jet fuel leaked onto the tunnel floor, between the underground storage tanks. The small lake of fuel ran down the tunnel floor into containment trenches. Eventually, making its way into a fire suppression system fluid sump. The sump then pushed fuel down into a fire suppression system fluid drain pipeline, where the fuel remained until November 20, 2021, when the drain pipeline ruptured, spilling into a tunnel system near the local drinking water system shaft.

A federal court lawsuit filed on the behalf of several affected servicemembers claims authorities were aware of the risks posed by the leak, but waited to reveal critical  information. As a result, the plaintiffs claim they were needlessly exposed to contaminated water, and the base was directly responsible for the resulting health complications, of both them and their families.

History repeats  

Because of this continuous faulty system, the facility is to close. As of December 2021, the state agency responsible for the facility has issued an emergent closure of Red Hill, to be carried out by the Navy. The base has stated they are compliant with the order, with plans of cleaning up the mess left behind. The facility is to be defueled no later than the end of 2024. 

This all sounds a lot like the 1953 through 1987 water poisoning at Camp Lejeune you’re just now seeing all the lawsuit ads for. Let’s hope the travesty that occurred at Red Hill doesn’t also take decades for those suffering to be helped, and those responsible to be held accountable.

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