Red Hill task force passes environmental defueling inspection

by Vern Evans

The task force assigned to oversee defueling operations of the controversial Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility passed an inspection by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a letter from the agency.

An EPA enforcement and compliance official sent a letter to the commander of Joint Task Force-Red Hill, Vice Adm. John Wade, where the official noted that the task force had met the 11 criteria listed in the defueling plan in order to transfer the responsibilities of closing the site to Navy Closure Task Force-Red Hill.

“EPA commends the JTF-RH for the removal of a vast majority of the fuel stored within the RHBFSF upon establishment of the task force,” said Jamie Marincola, the acting deputy director of the Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Division. “We look forward to a seamless transition as responsibility for final fuel removal activities shifts to the NCTF-RH.”

Marincola did note that the defueling is not complete, but that the Defense Department and Defensive Logistics Agency have developed a plan for Navy Closure Task Force-Red Hill.

The responsibilities for the Navy Closure Task Force-Red Hill include removing all fuel and “fuel-derived waste,” along with sludge material that has accumulated at the bottom of the tank, according to the letter. Some of the remaining fuel at the bottom of the tank may need to be removed “by destructive means,” but Marincola did not elaborate further.

In October, the EPA approved the Defense Department to begin defueling the Hawaii storage facility at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, nearly two years after a spill leaked into a water well that serves more than 90,000 people. Navy officials had initially said the water was safe to drink, even as residents around Pearl Harbor reported that their drinking water smelled like fuel.

Nearly 6,000 personnel — including many military families — sought out medical care for rashes, sores, nausea and other ailments after being exposed to the water.

As of June 2023, nearly 1,500 people had filed an administrative claim against the Navy, along with a pending federal lawsuit with 300 plaintiffs.

Zamone “Z” Perez is a rapid response reporter and podcast producer at Defense News and Military Times. He previously worked at Foreign Policy and Ufahamu Africa. He is a graduate of Northwestern University, where he researched international ethics and atrocity prevention in his thesis. He can be found on Twitter @zamoneperez.

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