DOH amends Red Hill advisory but remains vigilant

Posted on Feb 25, 2022 in Capitol Connection, Featured, Main
State lawmakers tour the Navy’s Red Hill bulk fuel storage facility.

State lawmakers tour the Navy’s Red Hill bulk fuel storage facility. (Photo provided by: Hawai‘i State Senate)

Flushing and monitoring of contaminated water from the Red Hill bulk fuel storage facility continues, amid a pending court challenge by the Navy and calls to permanently decommission the tanks. Although the state Department of Health has declared that residents in Zones I1 and A1 can use their water for all purposes, Governor Ige and DOH officials said they fully understand people’s concerns. “While this announcement is a step forward in the state’s emergency response, we have a long way to go,” the governor said. “Families remain displaced. Keiki are having their learning disrupted. Businesses remain closed. And we must not forget that this disaster shouldn’t have happened in the first place.”

In the meantime, DOH’s emergency order remains in effect. “Our order to the Navy said five things: 1) stop fueling activity, 2) install a safe drinking water treatment system, 3) safely defuel the tanks, 4) hire an independent assessor and 5) take whatever corrective actions are needed to make the facility safe,” the governor explained. “We want them to remove the fuel, then establish that they can operate the facility safely. If they can’t, then the facility cannot be refueled.” He said the state has the legal authority to regulate underground storage tanks, including Red Hill.

Governor Ige also took exception to the statement issued by Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks after the United States filed its appeal of the state’s emergency order. “I actually met with her at the Pentagon when I was in Washington, D.C. for the National Governors Association conference,” he said. “Her statement said we discussed options to find ‘a mutually agreeable path forward,’ but they didn’t lay out any options. They just said they were going to file the lawsuit but didn’t provide any information on what was actually in it. It felt like the meeting was called to give the appearance of collaboration while they buy time. They’re still claiming the state doesn’t have the authority to issue our emergency order and protect our drinking water. I told her the people of Hawai‘i don’t trust the Navy.”

Kathleen Ho, DOH deputy director of environmental health, added, “We understand many are wary, and we will continue to investigate and hold the Navy accountable to provide safe drinking water. DOH will act . .  . in a manner that is protective of public health as we evaluate the remaining Navy water system zones.” Navy water system users in other areas remain under the health advisory and should not consume tap water. Anyone with questions or concerns can contact DOH at (808) 586-4258 or [email protected].

Read more in the March Capitol Connection newsletter.

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