Navy Cleaning Up, Investigating Fire Suppressant Spill at Red Hill

December 5, 2022 6:06 PM
Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC) Fleet Logistics Center (FLC) Pearl Harbor employees uses tools to relocate contaminated soil onto a wheelbarrow as part of NAVFAC Public Works Department and Joint Task Force-Red Hill’s (JTF-RH) hazard material spill recovery operation at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility (RHBFSF) in Halawa, Hawaii, Dec. 1, 2022. US Army Photo

The Navy appointed an Army two-star general to oversee the investigation into another spill at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, which comes nearly a year after a fuel spill contaminated the water supply and forced the eventual closure of the space.
This time the sea service is cleaning up Aqueous Film Forming Foam, a fire suppressant, the Hawaii Department of Health announced on Nov. 29. The Joint Task Force – Red Hill, which oversees the defueling process, appointed Maj. Gen. Richard Heitkamp, with the U.S. Army Reserve, to lead the investigation into the AFFF leak, the task force announced on Dec. 2.

AFFF can contain polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which are colloquially known as forever chemicals due to their long-lasting effects. PFAS have been linked to health effects such as cancers, immune system effectiveness and developmental delays, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Approximately 1,100 gallons of the fire suppressant leaked on Nov. 29, according to a news release from the Hawaii Department of Health. As of Dec. 2, the most recent news release from the health department, there is no effect on the drinking water. Measures are in place to protect surface water in the case of rain.

The Navy’s water supply is unaffected, according to a Dec. 1 Navy release. The Navy’s water comes from the Waiawa shaft, which is approximately 6 miles away from the affected area.

The health department approved the Navy’s PFAS Sampling and Analysis Plan in response to the leak on Dec. 1, according to the Navy release. As part of the plan, the Joint Task Force will test nine groundwater monitoring wells for PFAS and remove 3,000 cubic feet of soil, according to the Navy.

The Joint Task Force has already removed approximately 85 percent of the soil that it’s storing in 55-gallon drums.

“Additionally, a significant amount of the contaminated asphalt and concrete swale has been removed from the site and taken to an interim site on [Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickham],” according to the release. “All of the AFFF free product in the interior of Adit 6 has been absorbed with absorbent pads, and a technical evaluation is currently in progress to determine the means and methods to remediate AFFF from the concrete surface.”

Due to the leak, repairs related to the defueling of Red Hill have been suspended so the task force can focus on the spill response and figure out how the lack of AFFF will affect the defueling process, according to the release.

The task force announced on Monday that surveillance footage from the leak will be released to the Hawaii Department of Health and the EPA for their investigations. It will not release the footage publicly.

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio

Heather Mongilio is a reporter with USNI News. She has a master’s degree in science journalism and has covered local courts, crime, health, military affairs and the Naval Academy.
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