(The Center Square) – The U.S. Department of Defense began defueling Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility on Monday, nearly two years after a spill into the area’s water forced thousands from their residences.
The DOD is draining 20 tanks located 100 feet underground through a series of pipelines that run through three miles of tunnels, the DOD said in a news release. About 104 million gallons will be removed from the tanks built in the 1940s to hold up to 250 million gallons of fuel.
The process is starting months earlier than expected.
“The Department of Defense has worked closely with the Hawaii Department of Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to ensure we are good stewards of the environment as we work toward the timely and safe closure of Red Hill,” said Kathleen Hicks, deputy secretary of defense. “Beginning the defueling process earlier than initially planned is a testament to the Department’s commitment to safeguarding the aquifer and protecting the health of the people in Hawaii.”
The Hawaii Department of Health ordered the DOD to close the fuel storage facility in March 2022 after giving the DOD conditional approval for the defueling last week. As part of the agreement, health officials will monitor the defueling. The DOD must also provide daily updates to the health department.
The defueling process will take until mid-January, the DOD said. After that, closure begins, which the department said could take several years.
“We listened to the community and have taken significant precautions to mitigate risk and protect the aquifer and the environment as we safely and expeditiously defuel the facility,” said Vice Adm. John Wade, JTF-Red Hill Commander.
Families affected by the November 2021 spill are still receiving health care from the Defense Health Agency in concert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs, DOD officials said.
The Environmental Protection Agency is also monitoring the defueling.
“Protecting Oahu’s aquifer is essential to ensuring safe drinking water for the people of Hawaii,” said EPA Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe. “Throughout this process, EPA has worked with the DOD, JTF- Red Hill, the state of Hawaii, community members, and critical stakeholders to develop practical solutions that are leading to real environmental results and vital public health benefits.”
Congress allotted $1.1 billion in the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2023 to fund the defueling.
The state’s congressional delegation is turning its attention to the spill’s effects. They are asking for $4 million to study the health outcomes of the affected residents.