Photo: Underground inside the Red Hill fuel storage facility. Credit: U.S. Navy/Daniel Mayberry
The Honolulu Board of Water Supply has shut down the Halawa well, the largest source of drinking water for the main Hawaiian island Oahu, after the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor announced contamination from its World War II-era Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility. The U.S. Navy suspended use of the underground storage tank atop the aquifer that accounts for about 20% of Honolulu’s drinking water supply after receiving multiple complaints from residents about tap water smelling like gas.
While Honolulu’s residents expressed outrage at the danger they were facing, the Navy offered superficial and sloppy responses, from asking the residents to run water to flush the system or asking people to be their own sensors. Residents reported experiencing vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, dizziness and sore throats from drinking the tainted and foul-smelling water.
Red Hill has had multiple fuel leaks over the years and even still the Navy did not cease operations despite the obvious threat of contamination. Despite claiming to rigorously test the storage tanks, the U.S. Navy did not disclose its test results.
The Board of Water Supply has been raising concerns about contamination from Red Hill since 2014 after the Navy announced that 27,000 gallons of fuel had leaked. In 2019, Board of Water Chief Engineer Ernest Lau warned that it was a matter of time before the drinking water would be contaminated given that fuel had already seeped into the groundwater at that time. His warnings fell on deaf ears as the Navy resisted calls for relocating the fuel site.
The Navy at every step of the way ignored calls for the population’s safety. This callousness is unsurprising given the history of the U.S. military’s systemic and blatant disregard for pollution and the well-being of the people in places it occupies. The U.S. military is the largest polluter and contributor to environmental degradation in the world.
Ironically, members of Congress including Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi at the COP26 climate summit recently fumbled and hurriedly closed their session when asked by journalist Abby Martin why mainstream climate change conversations failed to include the impact of U.S. military operations. This indicates the U.S. government’s plain indifference to actually improving the environment, while paying lip service to “going green.”
The U.S. empire exploits and plunders its way across the world leaving a network of hundreds of military bases in its wake with no regard for consequences for the people and the environment. This is true on U.S. soil as well — the military simply has no regard for human life wherever it goes.