US Military starts long-awaited defueling process in Red Hill

After almost two years, a Navy fuel storage facility that leaked in Hawaii, sickening thousands, is emptying.

“The Navy has taken responsibility for the spill, but not for the harm,” said Kristina Baehr, attorney for the Red Hill victims.  

The Navy confirmed to Scripps News that the Red Hill bulk fuel storage facility, the subject of a Scripps News special last month, was set to begin emptying Monday morning. 

It’s the start of a long process to stop the bleeding after thousands of gallons of jet fuel  leaked in late 2021. The fuel ended up in water lines and the surrounding environment. 

“So the Navy is on the hook to investigate impacts to soil, to groundwater, to drinking water and how those might impact human health and the environment,” said Amy Miller, the compliance assurance director for Region 9 for the EPA.

The EPA is overseeing the process and directed repairs to the facility that preceded Monday’s defueling. 

“In order to ensure that these millions and millions of gallons of fuel are going to be moved  in a safe manner, these repairs needed to happen,” said Miller.

The Navy told Scripps News that some of the 104 million gallons of fuel will stay on Oahu. The rest will relocate to facilities in Singapore, the Philippines and San Diego. For thousands of residents of Oahu, it’s been a long time coming, the culmination of years of fighting to close the facility. But with many still juggling medical complications from the fuel exposure, it’s far from the end of the road. 

“We’ve seen specialists. I have traveled to Ohio for my children to see specialists,” said Norine Tuck, whose water was contaminated with fuel.

Tuck’s daughter has neurological impacts from the fuel. And Tuck has tens of thousands of dollars in medical costs she has yet to recoup. The Navy still denies any ongoing medical impact from the disaster. 

“The Navy admitted fault to this, but they are pretty much denying that we’re sick,” said Tuck.

One week after Scripps News’ special report, the Navy censured three of the retired Navy leaders involved in overseeing Red Hill, citing failure in oversight, communication and accountability.  

Norine and thousands of others are suing the Navy for compensation. But even if they prevail, the ones left behind on Oahu worry the U.S. Navy still  won’t get the message. “It really speaks to this, this pattern of systemic disregard of the very resources that we need to survive. I don’t know if the Department of Defense is really or willing to make that huge pivot to acknowledging the central importance of environmental integrity to national security,” said Wayne Tanaka, the executive director of the Sierra Club of Hawaii.