The lack of on-scene leadership by Navy officers in the days following anewly published research found.led to the contamination of thousands of last year, a couple of
The response fell “unacceptably below Navy standards for leadership, ownership, and protection of our communities,” Vice Chief of Naval Operations Admiral William Lescher wrote in an endorsement of the investigation.
The Red Hill Underground Storage Facility on Oahu leaked nearly 20,000 gallons of jet fuel in November 2021. The leak affected the drinking water of more than 90,000 residents and forced thousands of families tofor weeks during the holidays.
Although the investigation found that human error was initially responsible for the leaks, it also concluded that leaders displayed a lack of awareness of the potential effect on drinking water and how to respond.
“No one person took charge of the scene,” the investigation said.
The investigation did not reveal which officials have been reprimanded, but the head of the US Pacific Fleet, Admiral Samuel Paparo, told reporters Thursday that “a number of people” are no longer in their assigned posts and that there could be more accountability after a separate investigation. by the commander of the US Fleet Forces Command.
The water contamination crisis began in May 2021 when operators improperly performed a fuel transfer at the facility that spilled thousands of gallons of fuel. The fuel remained unknown on a firefighting line until an operator struck the line with a passenger rail car on November 20, 2021, releasing the fuel.
Navy officials initially thought the incident did not affect drinking water, but did not understand that there were multiple paths to the well. It was not until November 28, 2021, when the Navy began receiving reports of a fuel odor in the water from residents, that the Hawaii Navy Region secured the Red Hill water well.
Paparo said Thursday that leaders on the scene in November were slow to communicate that the leak contained fuel, not water, and presented “overly optimistic” assessments of the spill’s extent.
Of the nearly 20,000 gallons of fuel released, some 4,772 gallons remain unaccounted for. Some of the released fuel contaminated the Red Hill well and has since been expelled from the water system, according to Paparo, and some of the fuel could be trapped in soil, rocks and water under the tunnels.
The Department of Defense announced in March 2022 that it would permanently offload and close the Red Hill fuel storage facility, a process that, under the current plan, is expected to be complete by the end of 2024.