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Navy halts Hawaii fuel tank operations amid investigation into tap water

There have been complaints that tap water smells like fuel and has sickened some people.

HONOLULU — The Navy will stop operations at fuel storage tanks above a Hawaii aquifer until the completion of its own investigation into how petroleum got into tap water.

In a memo dated Tuesday, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said “corrective actions shall be performed as expeditiously as possible.”

The Navy previously said it was suspending use of the massive fuel storage complex near Pearl Harbor following days of complaints that tap water smells like fuel and has sickened some people.

But the Navy also informed Hawaii officials it was contesting a state order demanding that the suspension remain in effect until independent evaluators can ensure that appropriate actions are taken to protect drinking water.

State officials want the Navy to treat contaminated drinking water and remove fuel from the massive 20 underground storage tanks at the complex called the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.

Kaitlin Arita-Chang, a spokesperson for the Hawaii Department of Health, said she was seeking comment from state officials about the memo.

The Navy will consult with an independent third party to assess operations and system integrity of the tank facility and develop a plan for necessary repairs, said the memo, which was made public Wednesday.

“The recent incident at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, in which military housing units and other facilities received tap water containing petroleum products is not acceptable,” the memo said.

The Navy’s water system serves about 93,000 people in and near Pearl Harbor and nearly 1,000 military households have complained about their tap water. Some said they suffered ailments such as cramps and vomiting after drinking it recently.

Testing last week showed the presence of petroleum in water that comes from a well near the underground fuel tank complex that has been the source of multiple fuel leaks over the years.