Nearly two months after a fuel leak sickened and displaced thousands of military families due to widespread drinking water contamination, a senior Biden administration official confirmed to Spectrum News that President Joe Biden has been briefed on the matter and his administration is committed to restoring clean drinking water and trust to those impacted in Hawaii.
The response from the Biden administration comes following repeated requests by Spectrum News to confirm whether President Biden was aware of the specifics surrounding the fuel spill and if he was apprised of current efforts to bring clean drinking water back to those stationed at Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii.
“The president was briefed and is clear: Nothing is more important than the health, safety, and well-being of our people, their families, and our community neighbors,” the official told Spectrum News exclusively
“That’s why we are committed to ensuring all parties move quickly and transparently in this process with the full support and oversight of the federal government in making the required physical infrastructure changes and working with the local community to restore both clean drinking water and trust moving forward,” the official added.
In late November, the U.S. Navy announced it had begun an investigation into a leak at its Red Hill fuel storage facility and determined that an estimated 14,000 gallons of jet fuel had somehow leaked into the drinking water used by an estimated 90,000 people in the area.
The Red Hill underground storage facility is made up of 20 massive WWII-era fuel storage tanks that each can hold up to 12.5 million gallons of fuel. The fuel is transported, via pipeline, to piers at Pearl Harbor-Hickam and then used to support U.S. naval operations in the Pacific. The complex sits above an aquifer that provides more than 77% of Oahu’s drinking water.
In December, testing by the Honolulu Board of Water Supply found levels of gasoline and diesel-range hydrocarbons as much as 350 times higher than state-approved levels in the drinking water from a Navy-operated well.
Military families, including small children, say they began to see health issues arise due to the contamination starting in the fall, ranging from hair loss to gastrointestinal issues to skin rashes.
When the leak was first detected, the Navy said that they believed it was not the result of a faulty tank but instead came from a pipe for the facility’s fire suppression system.
Since then, Navy officials testified during a House Armed Services subcommittee hearing on Jan. 11 and took responsibility for the leak, attributing the spill to “operator error”.
At the same January hearing, Navy officials confirmed that they had begun to empty the tanks at the Red Hill Storage facility. The Navy was ordered to do so as a result of an emergency order from Hawaii’s State Department of Health. The officials also told the subcommittee that the cleanup and recovery effort has already cost upwards of $250 million.
“Our teams are engaged with DOD to monitor the day by day efforts to take care of those affected by this crisis,” the Biden administration official added in response to Spectrum News.
Just days after the crisis began, U.S. Senator Brian Schatz, a Democrat, said that he’s spoken directly with White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain and Homeland Security Advisor Dr. Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall to brief them on the water contamination crisis on Oahu.
For several days before the agreement was reached, Schatz and several other members of Hawaii’s delegation said they tried to reach out to the White House to call attention to the water crisis but their efforts were unsuccessful.
Gov. David Ige and Hawaii’s congressional delegation all called on the Secretary of the Navy to immediately suspend operations at Red Hill and the Navy said that they have complied.