Lead levels called too low to threaten water system Chemicals are found in amounts so small that customers are at no risk, the state says

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In this file photo, James Murray of the Fleet Industrial Supply Center, Pearl Harbor, looks 200 feet down to the bottom of an empty fuel storage tank at the Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility.

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The state Department of Health is notifying the public that “very low” levels of lead and other chemicals have been detected in the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam water system.

The lead levels are within federal and state compliance levels for drinking water in a water distribution system (below the lead “action level”) and do not represent a health threat, the Health Department said in a news release issued Wednesday.

The notification comes after Navy officials confirmed in mid-January that a World War II-era underground fuel storage tank at Red Hill spilled up to 20,000 gallons of JP-8 fuel.

A U.S. Navy well and water tunnel are positioned downhill from the Red Hill fuel storage facility and provide about 24 percent of the drinkable water to the Pearl Harbor water system, according to a Navy report.

The water system serves about 65,000 people.

The Health Department also said “very low” levels of toluene, naphthalene, total petroleum hydrocarbons as gasoline, total petroleum hydrocarbons as diesel, 1-methylnaphthalene, and 2-methylnaphthalene were discovered during a subsequent search of historical records of groundwater monitoring conducted at a Red Hill source.

The level of toluene was well below the drinking water Maximum Contaminant Level, the state agency said, and the other chemicals were detected at levels well below state environmental action levels and do not pose a health threat.

“The state is required to notify the public of any new contaminants found in drinking water systems statewide, even if the findings do not represent a health risk,” said Chris Whelen, acting deputy director for Environmental Health. “DOH will continue to work with the U.S. Navy to monitor and test the water being served to consumers and ensure that public health is not compromised.”

Earlier records provided to the Health Department by the Navy indicated similar historic findings that are “well within safe drinking water standards,” Whelen said.

But Whelen also criticized the Navy for shortfalls in prior reporting.

“While these past findings are well below state and federal action levels, the department is concerned about the Navy’s lapse in properly reporting their earlier results to the state Safe Drinking Water program,” Whelen said.

Monitoring of the Red Hill water source and the other wells within the Red Hill fuel facility will continue for naphthalene and the other petroleum compounds, the Health Department said.

To date, the Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam water system is in compliance with federal and state drinking water standards for lead and toluene, and the state Environmental Action Levels for naphthalene and the other petroleum constituents, the Health Department said.

The Red Hill facility was built in secrecy between 1940 and 1943 during World War II and is considered a civil engineering marvel. Each of its 20 cylindrical tanks is 250 feet tall and 100 feet in diameter, and each can hold up to 12.5 million gallons of fuel.

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