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Navy finds string of blackouts led to fuel leak at Hawaii military installation that sickened families

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The leak and resulting damage to the environment and surrounding communities are part of what compelled the Department of Defense to announce in March that it would empty and permanently close the facility.

“The Navy accepts responsibility for what happened,” Admiral Samuel Paparo, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, said in a call with reporters Thursday.

The command investigation made no recommendations for individual disciplinary or administrative action. Those decisions will come from a separate Consolidated Disposition Authority headed by Admiral Daryl Caudle, the commander of U.S. Fleet Forces.

“The Consolidated Disposition Authority will review the evidence and make an independent determination of liability pursuant to the Uniform Code of Military Justice,” Paparo said. He did not offer a timeline for decisions on disciplinary or administrative action.

On May 6, 2021, operators at the facility improperly started a fuel transfer that caused pressure to build up in the system, the Navy command investigation found. The rapid increase in pressure damaged two pipe joints and caused a fuel spill. But the facility and its commanders did not realize or report the extent of the spill, estimating it was only about 1,580 gallons.

In reality, around 20,000 gallons had been spilled, the vast majority of which had flowed into a fuel suppression system running through a tunnel system, the inquest found. The system’s retention lines held the fuel for six months, and its weight caused the PVC pipes to collapse.

On November 20, 2021, a small underground trolley on an installation train hit a valve on the collapsed PVC pipes, causing fuel to squirt into the lines. But emergency responders were first told the liquid was a mixture of fuel and water, not just fuel, the Navy found.

For days, local navy officials believed there was no threat to the environment, telling their commanders there was no risk to groundwater and no danger of water contamination. environment, the Navy found, insisting that fuel could not seep through the concrete tunnel or the 100 feet of rock separating the tunnel from the aquifer.

A week after the spill, the facility received its first complaint of a fuel smell in the water from a nearby resident. The following day, the establishment received 37 more calls complaining of fuel in the water. The number of calls would quickly reach the hundreds.

On Nov. 28, the Navy securely shut down its Red Hill after reporting that people living on base were suffering from nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches and skin problems. Tests revealed petroleum hydrocarbons and vapors in the water, the Navy said at the time.

In its command investigation, the Navy found that the responses to the May spill and the November spill were inadequate and that proper training and drills after the original leak could have identified the risk to the well.

“Ultimately, both spill responses were in error because they concluded that a significant amount of fuel was unknowingly remaining outside reported containment limits,” the investigation concluded.

A complex web of responsibilities and accountabilities made it unclear who was responsible for what, the Navy found, making it increasingly difficult to identify the best solutions and how to implement them. as the situation worsened.

“These shortcomings have persisted due to accountability seams and a failure to learn from past incidents that fall unacceptably below Navy standards for leadership, ownership and the protection of our communities,” said noted the Navy.