U.S. military faces crisis in Hawaii after leak poisons water

U.S. military faces crisis in Hawaii after leak poisons water
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HONOLULU — A giant U.S. government fuel storage installation hidden inside a mountain ridge overlooking Pearl Harbor has provided fuel to military ships and planes crisscrossing the Pacific Ocean since World War II.

Its very existence was a secret for years. Even after it was declassified, few people paid attention — until late last year, when jet fuel leaked into a drinking water well, showed up in tap water and sickened thousands in military housing.

Now the Navy is scrambling to contain what one U.S. lawmaker calls a “crisis of astronomical proportions.” Native Hawaiians, veterans, liberals and conservatives across Hawaii are all pushing to shut down the tanks even though the Navy says they’re vital to national security.

Military medical teams have examined more than 5,900 people complaining of symptoms including nausea, headaches and rashes. The military has moved about 4,000 mostly military families into hotels and has flown in water treatment systems from the U.S. mainland.

In the first six weeks since the water crisis emerged, the Navy spent more than $250 million addressing the public health emergency.

“Frankly, it’s been a nightmare and a disaster. A total disaster,” said U.S. Rep. Kaiali‘i Kahele.

Kahele, a combat pilot who still serves as an officer in the Hawaii National Guard, is the lawmaker who characterized the crisis as astronomical at a hearing in December. An admiral said that the Navy takes the blame.

“The Navy caused this problem, we own it and we’re gonna fix it,” Navy Rear Adm. Blake Converse, the deputy Pacific Fleet commander, told lawmakers last month.

The military built the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in the early 1940s by excavating caverns within the mountain ridge to protect 20 fuel tanks from aerial attacks. Each tank is about the height of a 25-story building and can hold 12.5 million gallons (47.32 million liters.)

The tanks are connected to underground pipelines that send fuel about 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) to Pearl Harbor and to ships and planes used by the Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marines and Navy.

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