The special treatment of the Red Hill facility

Did you know that the Hawaiʻi Department of Health raised the level of allowable contamination in the groundwater for specific kinds of fuel—specifically for the waters under Red Hill?

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not set contamination levels set for groundwater therefore the individual states are left to use their own discretion to set contamination levels. Environmental Action Levels (EALs) are statewide contamination levels set by the Hawaiʻi Department of Health for soil and groundwater while Site Specific Risk-Based Levels (SSRBLs) are contamination levels set for known contaminated sites. In the case for Red Hill, the Department of Health saw it fit to raise the level of allowable contamination specifically in waters beneath Red Hill for chemicals associated to the jet fuel stored in the facility.

This is problematic as groundwater beneath Red Hill eventually becomes drinking water.

Source: 2008 Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility Groundwater Protection Plan

This is a strong example of how the Department of Health is not fulfilling its duties to protect the health of Hawaiʻi’s resources and its people. Unlike most other underground storage tank facilities in the state, these tanks sit directly above a major drinking water source—yet the department is not taking the most stringent steps to ensure there is no harm.

This is not the only case in which the Department of Health has failed to take the most protective stance for our resources. In 2016, DOH approved the Navy’s request to reduce the number of chemicals of potential concern to be tested for in groundwater sampling—from 70 chemicals to 12. Despite strong opposition from the Honolulu Board of Water Supply, the Sierra Club, and others, the department moved forward with this reduction on the basis that the chemicals being cut had not been found around Red Hill before so there is no reason to expect they would be discovered in the future.

Time and time again, the regulators—EPA and DOH, have submitted letters of disapproval to the Navy regarding the quality of work they are conducting under the AOC. The regulators often site inadequate descriptions of work, lack of reasoning behind conclusions, poor quality data and the lack of substantive data. However, beyond these letters, there appears to be little done to hold the Navy accountable. DOH instead reiterates the Navy’s response that letters of disapproval are the normal course of business under such agreements. The Sierra Club believes that the Health Department is not doing everything in its power to protect our water from the Navy’s tanks. Instead, the department continues to give the Navy leeway putting our water at even more risk.

DOH is the primarily local agency responsible for protecting the health of Hawaiʻi’s environment and people. The people of Hawaiʻi must continue to voice our concerns and hold the department to their constitutional obligations.

Here’s a chance to hold DOH accountable – they are undergoing rulemaking on underground storage tanks but allowing the Navy 20 years to bring their tanks into compliance with the new rules. Submit comments and/or attend the public meeting on Thursday, May 31, 9am at State Lab Auditorium, 2725 Waimano Home Road in Pearl City.

Click here for details and to take action by June 5.