By Ann Wright, World BEYOND War, December 7, 2021
On December 6, after all hell broke loose at each of the five town hall meetings held over several days by the U.S. Navy to try to calm military families who have been drinking and bathing in fuel contaminated water, the Governor of the State of Hawai’i issued an order to the Navy to suspend the operation of the massive jet fuel tanks and within 30 days “defuel” or remove the fuel out of the tanks! Governor Ige said the public had lost confidence in the Navy.
For the past week, rather than providing accurate information about the drinking water contamination, senior military leadership were caught in their own webs of inaccurate information given to the military families affected by fuel in the water…and given to the State of Hawai’i. By the end of the December 5 Town Hall, hundreds of irate military community members in-person had peppered senior officers, including the Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations, with sharp questions and with over 3,200 comments in the Facebook Live chat.
Carlos del Toro, Secretary of the Navy and Admiral Michael Gilday, Chief of Naval Operations had arrived in Honolulu early for the December 7 Pearl Harbor Day commemorations as an indication of the severity of the medical and emotional toll on Navy families from the poor response of the Navy command to the contaminated water crisis.
As the Navy leadership attempted to recover from their slow response to the tens of thousands in the military community affected by the disastrous jet fuel contamination, the political ramifications of the fuel leak increased. In a major development, on Sunday, December 5, as the Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations were meeting with some of the military community, the Governor of the State of Hawai’i and the 4 members of the Congressional delegation issued a statement calling for the U.S. Navy to suspend operations of the entire massive Red Hill jet fuel storage operations “as they confront and remedy this crisis.”
A day earlier, U.S. Senators Brian Schatz and Mazie K. Hirono and U.S. Representatives Ed Case and Kaiali‘i Kahele after test results found petroleum contaminants in the Navy’s water system, became seized with the dangers of the leaking fuel tanks and released a statement that demanding that the Navy change its culture that allows many accidents without accountability: “It is clear that the Navy has failed to manage its fuel operations, including Red Hill, to a standard that protects the health and safety of the people of Hawai‘i. The Navy must immediately identify, isolate, and fix the problems that have allowed the contamination of the drinking water at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. That includes a wholesale change in an organizational culture that has allowed too many accidents to occur without any accountability.”
Earlier in the week, two past Governors of the State of Hawai’i, John Waihee and Neil Abercrombie, called for the closure of the Navy’s Red Hill fuel storage facility something due to the leaks of the tanks.
In the town hall meetings, many military spouses told of their children having rashes, upset stomachs and headaches. Several children and pregnant women had to go to emergency rooms. Pets were not immune to the contaminated water and many were taken to vets for treatment. Over 1000 families have been moved to Waikiki hotels.
It is ironic that it’s the fuel contamination of water in the homes of military families that has brought the dangers of the 80-year-old massive, leaking Red Hill jet-fuel tanks to a head.
What has happened to the military families underscores the dangers to the 400,000 residents in Honolulu whose water would be contaminated by a predicted major leak from the underground fuel storage tanks. If Honolulu’s aquifer is contaminated with fuel, it is contaminated forever. Water from other parts of the island would have to be diverted and boatloads of water would have to be brought from the mainland.
National security is all about keeping citizens safe.
When the military endangers the lives of its own families and fellow citizens by keeping the Red Hill fuel tanks open, then something is wrong.
Time to close permanently, the Red Hill jet fuel tanks for both human security and national security.
About the Author: Ann Wright served 29 years in the U.S. Army/Army Reserves and retired as a Colonel. She was also a U.S. diplomat and served in U.S. embassies in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia. She resigned from the U.S. government in March 2003 in opposition to the U.S. war on Iraq. She is the co-author of “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.”