Oil waste often poured into Halawa Stream

Honolulu Star Advertiser - February 28, 2014
By: 
William Cole

Disposal pits for "oily waste" at the Navy's Red Hill fuel storage facility were a repeated source of soil and stream water contamination between 1943 and 1987, Navy documents show.

Oily water was routinely dumped into nearby South Halawa Stream. Sometime after 1972 an "improper valve operation" led to a "significant amount" of sludge being discharged directly into the stream, and on at least two occasions oily waste was intentionally dumped into nearby koa bush.
Additionally, the documents note a massive fuel spill of 1.3 million gallons at Red Hill between 1943 and 1945 that flowed through access tunnels and discharged onto open ground and into South Halawa Stream.

The oily waste pit contamination came to light after the Navy's public notice in mid-January of a fuel spill of up to 27,000 gallons focused attention on the huge World War II-era underground fuel farm.

Concerns about ongoing environmental effects prompted state Senate and House lawmakers to schedule a March 7 briefing with the Navy.
"The revelations coming out about the fuel leaks and oily waste are very alarming," said state Sen. Mike Gabbard, chairman of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee. "This is one of the main reasons we want to get the Navy to give us an update and let us know the steps they're taking to clean up existing contamination and to prevent any future harm to our drinking water and environment."

The briefing, which is open to the public, is scheduled for 1 p.m. in Room 329 of the state Capitol.

Environmental activist Carroll Cox, who obtained Navy and Health Department reports on Red Hill, criticized what he said are "disjointed and fragmented" state oversight efforts and the Navy's self-policing of the facility. More needs to be done to monitor the site, he said.

Navy reports reveal multiple fuel leaks of many thousands of gallons over some seven decades from the 20 giant underground storage tanks that were completed in secrecy in 1943.

A U.S. Navy well was dug about 3,000 feet downhill from the fuel farm, and includes a water tunnel extending across the water table to within 1,560 feet of the facility, one of the Navy reports said.

The Board of Water Supply Halawa Shaft is about 5,000 feet northwest of Red Hill, providing water to hundreds of thousands of people on Oahu.

Four Board of Water Supply wells in the vicinity of the Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility were shut down following the fuel leak, the water board said, but were reopened when testing showed no indication of contaminants.

The Navy previously said there were no signs that the recent fuel leak in one of the tanks had migrated beyond the tank's concrete casing.

Steven Chang, chief of the Health Department's Solid and Hazardous Waste Branch, said his office hasn't received any updated information from the Navy.

"Obviously, we're asking for more information from the Navy to provide us strategies that they are incorporating (to prevent further leaks)," Chang said.

Two pits were used to collect oily waste sludges, solvents and water generated during cleaning of the tanks, according to Navy reports.

The first pit, 45 by 70 feet, and 14 feet deep, was unlined and was used from 1943 to 1948. A replacement asphalt-lined pit, later replaced by concrete, was in use from 1972 to 1987.

Recoverable oil was skimmed off the top, and oily water was sometimes dumped into South Halawa Stream via a pipe, Navy documents state. The sludge residue was burned on at least one occasion in 1948.

In the years between the use of the pits, the Navy speculated that wastes could have been pumped into two aboveground 8,000-gallon tanks or disposed of in South Halawa Stream.

On at least two occasions shortly after the new pit's construction and in the early 1980s, waste oil sludge was dumped into nearby vegetated areas.

Tom Clements, a spokes¬man for Navy Region Hawaii, said remediation work in 1995 included removing the pit's liner and underground piping; excavating to a depth where there were either no contaminants or any below actionable levels; moving the excavated material off-site where it was processed to remove contaminants; and returning the earth to the excavation site and paving it over with asphalt.