Newly-unearthed letter from Akaka offers evidence of Red Hill leaks 2 decades ago

One of Hawaii's most powerful political leaders - the late Senator Daniel Akaka - questioned a high-ranking military official about the viability of the fuel ta
Published: Oct. 16, 2023 at 5:57 PM HST|Updated: 9 hours ago
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In 2006, the late U.S. Sen. Dan Akaka questioned a high ranking military official about the viability of the Red Hill underground fuel storage tanks.

The letter, newly obtained by Hawaii News Now, is evidence that leaks had been happening at the World War II-era facility for at least 20 years. The letter to then-Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter was about outsourcing maintenance work at the Red Hill facility.

In the letter, Akaka adds that he “would appreciate” Winter’s assistance in looking further into measures taken by the Navy “to safeguard the Red Hill fuel tanks from leakage.”

Special Section: Navy Water Crisis

The letter continued, “My office has learned that in fact leaks did occur and that the tanks were drained and cleaned.”

According to the letter, Akaka was told the tanks remained empty for at least two years. Another key point in the letter: Akaka seemed concerned that a “leak detection system” was no longer in operation but still managed to detect the leaks.

“I would appreciate an explanation for the Navy’s decision to discontinue the earlier utilized fuel tank leak detection system,” he wrote.

Akaka said he was told it proved “successful in identifying the four leaking fuel tanks.”

He asked Winter to “further investigate the cause of the leaks and the amount of fuel leaked from these tanks.” He then inquired about clean-up efforts.

The letter is the earliest documented warning about the facility from a high-ranking politician, according to Marti Townsend, engagement specialist with the nonprofit Earthjustice.

The letter, newly obtained by Hawaii News Now, is evidence that leaks had been happening at the World War II-era facility for at least 20 years.

Townsend said it was clear that elected officials — even at the U.S. congressional level — were concerned about the water supply. “They were trying to engage with the military to get those risks mitigated and addressed,” Townsend said, adding the Navy brushed off the concerns.

“When the U.S. military comes in and says, ‘Don’t worry, we’ve got this handled,’ they don’t really leave a lot of room for us to question that.”

Attorney Michael Green represents dozens who are suing after they were sickened by the huge Red Hill fuel leak in 2021. Fuel got into the water system that serves military families and civilians in a crisis that eventually led to the military’s decision to empty the facility.

Green said the letter shows the Navy poisoned their own people and families by covering up the warnings. “Over 20 years ago, there were concerns about fuel contaminating their drinking water, what they’re using to cook, and it’s ignored,” Green said.

The Navy has admitted at least 6,000 people needed medical treatment after the 2021 leak.

“I’m worried about miscarriages. I’m worried about cancers,” Green said.

On Monday, after months of planning and training, the military began historic project to empty the Red Hill tanks of more than 100 million gallons of fuel. Military officials have pledged transparency and a years-long environmental abatement effort.