Pearl Harbor fuel spill that sickened thousands prompts Navy to scold 3 now-retired officers in writing

— Honolulu For their roles in the jet fuel spill into Pearl Harbor’s drinking water in 2021, three now-retired military officers received written reprimands from the Navy on Thursday. However, no one was fired, suspended, had their pay docked, or had their rank reduced as a result of the incident.

Numerous military families were poisoned by the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility disaster, which still poses a threat to the safety of Honolulu’s water supply.

The three rear admirals received censure letters from Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, according to a news release from the Navy. Additionally, he canceled the personal military medals that had been given to three captains, one commander, and five rear admirals.

Del Toro stated in a statement that “accepting responsibility is a step in restoring trust in our relationship with the community.”

The Navy will keep “taking every action to identify and address this issue” since the spill “was not acceptable,” he said.

A fuel leak into a well that provided water to homes and businesses near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam was the result of a series of mistakes, according to a Navy inquiry last year. Around 6,000 people experienced symptoms like nausea, headaches, rashes, and other issues.

According to the study, on May 6, 2021, a pipe burst when fuel was being transported between tanks as a result of operator mistake, causing 21,000 gallons to flow. A fire suppression line sagged due to the majority of it flowing into it and remaining there for six months. Then, on November 20, a cart rammed into the sagging line, spilling 20,000 gallons of petroleum into a French drain and a water well.

Despite Red Hill’s history of breaches, including the time 27,000 gallons leaked from one tank, the Navy had for years assured residents of Oahu that their water was secure.

Water is provided by the Navy’s system to around 93,000 people who live in and around Pearl Harbor.

After receiving numerous reports of “fuel or gasoline-like odor” from those who got their water from the system, Hawaii’s Department of Health first advised residents who depend on the Navy’s system to avoid “using the water for drinking, cooking, or oral hygiene”.

“Slap on the wrist”

Veterans, environmentalists, Native Hawaiians, liberals, and conservatives were among the people in Hawaii who were upset by the water contamination.

The Sierra Club of Hawaii’s Wayne Tanaka described the Thursday reprimands as “outrageous” in light of the harm already done and the continuing danger the leak threatens to an aquifer beneath the tanks.

Tanaka argued that receiving these written “slaps on the wrist” was an insult to the people and their dignity.

The military finally complied with the state of Hawaii’s request to empty the World War II-era tanks after months of defiance. In order to properly extract the fuel starting next month, it has spent the last year repairing the facility’s machinery. It plans to be finished by January 19.

Rear Adm. (retired) John Korka, who led the Navy Facilities Engineering Command Pacific prior to the two spills, Rear Adm. (retired) Timothy Kott, who led Navy Region Hawaii during the May spill, and Rear Adm. (retired) Peter Stamatopoulos, who served as commander of Naval Supply Systems Command during the May and November spills, were the three officers who received letters of censure from Del Toro.

Democratic U.S. Senator from Hawaii Mazie Hirono said in a statement that the Navy would need to address “systemic command and control failures, and a lack of requisite attention to infrastructure” in order to be held truly accountable for the catastrophe.

She pointed out that the Navy’s inquiry determined that the spill was caused by a culture of complacency, a lack of critical thinking, and a delay in communication.

Hirono said in a statement, “I have yet to see sufficient evidence that Navy leadership is handling these service-wide concerns with the seriousness or haste they demand.

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s Hirono promised to keep pressuring the Navy to implement these structural changes.

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