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Pentagon agrees to close Pearl Harbor fuel tank that leaked into water supply

Updated: Mar 9, 2022

The Defense Department on Monday did an about face and announced it would close the Red Hill fuel storage facility at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam that leaked into a drinking water well and sickened thousands of military family members.

The Pentagon said in early February that it would file an appeal to an emergency order issued by the Hawaii Department of Health that required the Red Hill tank to be drained. But on Monday, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said it wouldn’t press the point any further and would move to empty the storage facility after an internal review of the situation.

“As an outcome of this review, today I am directing the Secretary of the Navy, in coordination with the Commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, to take all steps necessary to defuel and permanently close the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility,” Austin wrote in a two-page memo.

Austin’s order asks the Secretary of the Navy and the Director of the Defense Logistics Agency to come up with a plan by May 31, 2022, to drain and close the facility. The plan also calls on officials to come up with a new plan for storing fuel across the Indo-Pacific that will “better position the United States to meet future challenges in the region.”

Red Hill was carved into the hillside at Pearl Harbor during World War II, which protected the fuel stores from attack. But Austin said in a separate statement that changes must be made.

“Centrally-located bulk fuel storage of this magnitude likely made sense in 1943, when Red Hill was built,” he said. “And Red Hill has served our armed forces well for many decades. But it makes a lot less sense now. The distributed and dynamic nature of our force posture in the Indo-Pacific, the sophisticated threats we face, and the technology available to us demand an equally advanced and resilient fueling capability.”

Austin said the Pentagon will also work to restore safe drinking water to residents of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, which primarily supports Navy and Air Force missions and is headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

In December, the Navy acknowledged that families were being sickened by fuel that was leaking into the water supply after it initially rejected that theory.

"I deeply apologize to each and every one of you and to the people of Hawaii that this incident may have been destructive to your lives in any way," Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro told residents.

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