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Navy halts use of fuel storage complex above Hawaii aquifer

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii (AP) — The U.S. Navy announced Monday that it is suspending use of a massive World War II-era fuel storage complex above a Hawaii aquifer that supplies nearly 20 percent of Honolulu’s drinking water — following days of complaints that tap water smells like fuel and has sickened some people.

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro traveled to Pearl Harbor and told reporters he was apologizing to everyone affected by what he called a “horrible, horrible tragedy.”

Nearly 1,000 military households have complained about their tap water and some have said they have suffered physical ailments such as cramps and vomiting recently after drinking it.

A water sample returned 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.

Del Toro said officials were getting close to determining the cause of the problem and that when the investigation is completed and reviewed, the Navy will adopt water safety precautions.

“This will allow us to implement new safety actions before resuming operations,” Del Toro said.

Separately, the state Department or Health ordered the Navy to suspend operations at the fuel facility, citing the governor’s power to act if there is “imminent peril to human health and safety or the environment” caused by a leak or operation of an underground storage tank system. The department said the Navy could appeal the order.

When asked if the Navy is considering permanently shutting down the fuel tank farm, Del Toro said all possibilities are being explored.

“We’re looking at some very serious options here in the very near future,” he said.

Fuel from the tanks is used to power many U.S. military ships and planes that patrol the Pacific Ocean, but Del Toro said the cutoff’s impact on military operations would “have a very minimal effect, if any, at all right now.”

The announcement came after Hawaii’s governor and congressional delegation called on the Navy to suspend operations at the fuel storage complex that sits above an aquifer that supplies water to urban Honolulu.

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