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Opening statements at Hawaii State Legislature briefing

11 December 2021

From U.S. Pacific Fleet Public Affairs

U.S. Navy officials, including Adm. Samuel Paparo, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, and Rear Adm. Blake Converse, deputy commander, addressed legislators during a Joint Informational Briefing on the Red Hill water situation, Dec. 10.

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii - Adm. Samuel Paparo, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet; Rear Adm. Blake Converse, U.S. Pacific Fleet's deputy commander;  Rear Adm. Dean VanderLey, commander of Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command Pacific and Pacific Fleet engineer; and Capt. Michael McGinnis, Pacific Fleet surgeon, addressed legislators, Dec. 10, during a virtual Joint Informational Briefing on the Red Hill water situation. Their opening statements are provided below.

Adm. Samuel Paparo:

Thank you so much, Representative Yamane. Thank you very much.

Aloha and thank you so much to the Senators and Representatives for welcoming me to speak with you today.

I am Adm. Samuel Paparo, Commander of the United States Pacific Fleet.

And let me start off by saying, from the very beginning of the crisis that we are in right now, the water crisis, the Navy is responsible for this crisis.  We are taking ownership of the solutions and we are going to fix it…we are in the process of fixing this.

Throughout this entire process, the Navy has been working very closely with:

  • Dr. Cathy Ho, Dr. Libby Char, the Hawaii Department of Health
  • Mr. Ernie Lau, Honolulu Board of Water Supply
  • Mr. Jeff Scott, EPA Region 9 

This profound partnership, absolutely magnificent support by the Department of Health, Board of Water Supply and EPA has been typified by compassion for our families. And just speaking for the entire United States Marine Corps, for all of the families, we could not be more grateful.

Our paramount obligation is to protect the health and well-being of all of the people.  We are so very grateful.

In order to achieve this, the Navy’s number one priority is to remediate the water system by eliminating the source of contaminates to ensure the safety of the water supply to families.

In consultation with Hawaii Department of Health, the Navy has been persistently testing, assessing and testing again throughout the Navy water supply system, along with a number of other specific actions which we will detail for the committees as we more forward.

We are just so very appreciative to the outpouring of support, coordination and collaboration between the Navy, Department of Health, Board of Water Supply, and EPA as we work together for the health and wellbeing of our people and of the community.

This past week Secretary of the Navy and the Chief of Naval Operations saw firsthand the affects and they have empowered me to bring the full resources of the United States Navy to fix this problem. All organizations within this response report directly to me and I am accountable for this fix.

As soon as we heard on the 28th of November the issues related to odors in the water supply, my immediate action was to activated what is called in military circles a Crisis Action Team. Putting my absolute number one officer on my staff in charge, the Deputy Commander Rear Adm. Blake Converse, putting him in charge of that team. The team comprises members from the Navy, from the Army, from the Air Force, from the Marine Corps with profound participation from the Department of Health, EPA and other organizations that work with experts both here in Hawaii and on the mainland.

Admiral Converse and the senior members of his team will brief you for the next 30 minutes, as they brief me almost every hour of every day, on what has happened, who is affected, what is being done, the timeline for resolution.

I know as a separate but related matter that there is interest in the order issued by the Department of Health related to the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility. The Navy Litigation Office is reviewing the order and we’ll put out more information on that topic at the December 16th hearing.

What I can absolutely say inequivalently is that the Secretary of the Navy has ordered the suspension of operations at the Red Hill Fuel Storage Facility as well as other steps that are consistent with that order that I previously mentioned.

And I would like to now turn it over to Admiral Converse, the director of the joint Crisis Action Team.  He has members of his leadership team, our leadership team, that would like to speak and will be ready to answer questions in detail from the engineering…civil engineering community, from the medical community and can discuss comprehensively the steps that we are taking.

And I will end as I began with profound appreciation for the partnership with the State of Hawaii as we all compassionately join together to solve this problem.  My very deepest thanks.

Rear Adm. Blake Converse:

Good Afternoon,

I'd like to first state that I am deeply sorry to our military housing residents and to the citizens of Hawaii that this event happened – as Adm. Paparo said, we, the Navy, own this problem and we’re going to fix it, and we’re going to take care of the military residents and all of the people impacted as we do that.

By way of introduction, I am Rear Adm. Blake Converse.  My normal assignment is Deputy Commander of the U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet HQs.  Shortly after the identification of contaminants in the Navy drinking water system, my boss, ADM Paparo, directed the stand up of a Joint Crisis Action Team and assigned me to lead that effort.

I am going to outline for you a timeline of the events that led to the contamination of our water system and discuss with you what we’re doing now to take care of those affected and recover the water system.  To do that, I’ve brought with me our Navy’s Chief Engineer in the Pacific, Rear Adm. Dean VanderLey, to discuss the details of our plan to clean up and restore the water distribution system and the Red Hill Shaft well, and our Pacific Fleet Chief Medical Officer, Capt. Mike McGinnis, to discuss the Joint Medical outreach and support effort we’re providing to those affected, and certainly to answer any questions that you may have regarding the health impact of this event.

I’d like to first discuss the timeline of events:

On the 20th of November, a spill of jet fuel, specifically JP-5 jet fuel, occurred at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in an access tunnel that provides fire suppression and service lines for the facility.  The fuel spill was cleaned up and, on the 23rd of November, my boss, Adm. Paparo, directed an independent investigation of the spill event, and ordered the investigating officer to also determine any connection between the 20 November event and the spill that occurred earlier this year, on the 6th of May. We expect this investigation to wrap up in January, and to address not just the cause of these events, but also to form the basis for accountability actions.

On the 27th of November, the Commander, Navy Region Hawaii, RDML Tim Kott, met with the Fleet Logistics Center Commander, who operates The Red Hill Fuel Storage Facility for the Navy, and they jointly made the decision to stop Red Hill Tank fuel transfer operations based on the ongoing investigation into the recent spills.

On Sunday, the 28th of November, the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam HQs and HI Department of Health began receiving phone calls from military residents reporting a chemical or petroleum taste and smell to the water on the Navy’s drinking water system.  As more calls were received, it became clear that the reports were a clustered around neighborhoods fed by the Red Hill Shaft Well, so the Navy, on the evening of the 28th of November, shut down that well and stood up the Region’s Emergency Operations Center to handle the issue.  As more calls continued to come in of contaminated water over the next 24 hours, Admrial Paparo, as the senior Navy commander in Hawaii, orders the establishment of a Joint Crisis Action Team and that was stood up under my direction on the 29th of November.  My first act as Joint Crisis Action Team Commander was to call the Deputy Director of the Department of Health, introduce myself, discuss the situation and get aligned on what we were seeing, and set conditions to stay aligned in both our communications and actions.

Over the course of the next week and a half, we have pursued four priorities within the Joint Crisis Action Team:

  • Take care of the residents affected by this crisis – both military and civilian, with every tool we have available.  I’ll discuss that further in a moment.
  • Identify the contaminant and how it got in the drinking water system.  We know with a high degree of confidence based on water testing results analyzed at a certified and independent laboratory that the contaminant is jet fuel, JP-5 jet fuel specifically, and that testing also indicates that the fuel is from a relatively new release.  From the test results and engineering analysis to date, it appears that some quantity of JP-5 jet fuel entered the Red Hill well in a single event, likely from the 20 Nov spill, and then was subsequently pumped from that well and distributed across those portions of the Navy water system fed by the Red Hill well.  We also are confident that this event was NOT a result of a leak from one of the Red Hill Tanks.
  • Finally, we have initiated the clean up of the drinking water system, in close coordination with the DoH and EPA.

We recognize the impact that this crisis has had on a large contingent our families, and in fact even one family impacted would be too many.  We have an all hands on deck effort to take care of every single person impacted, we’ve issued Joint Public Health Guidance that applies to all affected residents, and that was generated with consultation from the DoH and chief medical officers of all four services here and is posted on our Navy event website and on the DoH website.

In partnership with our other Services affected, we’ve established water distribution and set up temporary showers and laundry facilities across the affected communities, we are providing alternate housing for affected residents -- we’ve moved over 3,000 families to local hotels across the island.  We’ve established a network of legal and medical services including expanding clinic hours, dedicated legal and medical teams focused on this crisis, and mobile medical teams in the community. 

I’ve done several town halls to understand the needs of our families and we’ve gone back from every one of those and adjusted our actions to meet the needs of our residents.  We have a 24/7 Region Emergency Operations Center set up and fielding calls, we have a medical hotline, and we are in the process of establishing an interactive online registry to document those affected by this event. 

This crisis has also impacted child development centers, schools and facilities on our federal installations and in our housing areas, and we’re actively addressing those needs.  Last week I visited Ms. Komarey Moss, the Principal of the Red Hill Elementary School and Ms. Celeste Akiu, the Principal of Holy Family Catholic Academy – both of these schools are on the Navy’s water system in affected areas – and I can assure you that we have teams supporting them every day to ensure they have drinking water, they have water for sanitation and we are addressing any other impacts.  I visited with Ms. Tomoko Dangerfield, the Director of our network of child development centers because some of those centers are in the affected communities.  She explained that they were receiving sufficient drinking water and had facilities for sanitation, but they didn’t have a way to do laundry – we’ve now got a team of marines that are doing their laundry and delivering it back to the CDCs to fully support their needs.

The bottom line, we have a responsibility to our military residents to provide safe drinking water and we have a whole of Navy and Joint Force effort focused on meeting that need.  We are committed to taking care of the affected residents, cleaning up the water supply, and fixing the Red Hill Well.  And we are working closely with the EPA, Department of Health, local and State Governments, and the Congressional Delegation to do it right and as fast as humanly possible.

Now I’ll turn the mic over to Rear Adm. Dean VanderLey, who will describe our plan for restoring safe drinking water and for fixing the Red Hill well.

Rear Adm. Dean VanderLey:

Good Afternoon. My name is Dean VanderLey. I am the commander of NAVFAC Pacific, the Pacific Fleet Engineer and most importantly to you, I am the Navy purveyor of water here in Hawaii and across the Pacific. So to say it another way, I am the Navy’s board of water supply.

My goal here in a few short minutes is to give you an overview of the Navy water system, explain the plan to restore the Navy water system, and explain the plan to restore the Red Hill shaft and protect our aquifer.

(I will) start by giving you a brief overview of the Navy’s water system at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam.

  • I call it the Navy water system since it’s owned and operated by the Navy but it actually serves all the military branches in the area – Air Force, Army, Marines, Coast Guard, other agencies, etc.
  • Pull out your diagram. The Navy water system is served by three maui style wells – the Red Hill Shaft, the Halawa Shaft and the Waiawa Shaft.
  • In the middle of the diagram is Ford Island
  • Diamond Head of Ford Island is the Red Hill Shaft. Red Hill Shaft normally supplies about 15% of our water. Red Hill Shaft has been off service since Nov 28.
  • Ewa from the Red Hill Shaft is the Navy Halawa Shaft.  This is different than the BWS Halawa Shaft.  Navy Halawa Shaft normally supplies about 5% of our water. Navy Halawa Shaft has been off service since last Friday in coordination with Board of Water Supply.
  • Go back to Ford Island. Mauka from Ford Island is the Waiawa Shaft. Waiawa Shaft normally supplies about 80% of our water. With Red Hill and Halawa Shafts off line, Waiawa Shaft has been the sole source of Navy water for the last week.  We’re making that work through water conservation measures.

So first, plans to restore the Navy water distribution system.  As discussed, we have identified the source of the water problems as low level fuel contamination in the Red Hill Shaft

  • Red Hill Shaft has been isolated since Nov 28 so no new contamination is being introduced into the water distribution system.
  • The only water being injected into the system is from the Waiawa Shaft which has been verified clean through multiple tests.
  • First step in cleanup is to directionally flush a full system volume of clean water through the system. The system volume is about 25 million gallons. How fast this system flush can be completed is very dependent on flush volume. It could be completed as quickly as 4 days if there were no restrictions. We are working closely with Department of Health to conduct this flushing in a way that’s safe for the environment and the people of Hawaii, to include our military families
  • We have conducted on the order of 100 detailed samples of the water distribution system as a whole and all samples have come back within limits. So we believe this flush can be done safely.
  • The next step is to flush each individual home and facility. We have more detailed plans on how to do this. I believe this individual flushing could be accomplished as quickly as 4 days.
  • Throughout this flushing, we will continue a rigorous sampling protocol to evaluate the water as well as protect the environment and the people of Hawaii.
  • And I would like to add that these flushing and sampling plans have been developed in collaboration with the best minds in the private sector, academia, other military Services, and government agencies.  And I am actively working to build a stronger and broader technical coalition bringing in the best minds from the State of Hawaii on this.
  • After evaluation of the testing results, we will work closely with the DOH and other stakeholders to declare our water safe and get people back in their homes. My goal is to get this done before Christmas. That is an aggressive goal that will require significant collaboration across Navy, DOH, and many other stakeholders.  But that remains my personal goal for the sake of our families.

Second is our plan to restore the Red Hill Shaft and protect the aquifer.  There is some confirmed amount of petroleum contamination there.

  • I am confident that the source is the 20 Nov spill and that source was removed within approximately 24-30 hours
  • I also have a strong theory based on technical rigor and analysis on how that fuel got into the shaft.
  • The good news is that this was a singular event that can be prevented in the future.  Not indicative of a long term problem.
  • But we need to get that fuel out of the Red Hill Shaft
  • In the short term, we are working with DOH to use skimmers to directly remove petroleum contamination floating on top of the Red Hill shaft.  I believe that’s happening today.
  • But the real way to do significant cleanup is to pump large volumes of water out of the Red Hill Shaft.  This also protects the rest of the aquifer by pulling water towards the Red Hill shaft
  • Last night, my organization, NAVFAC Pacific, awarded a contract for 2 granular activated carbon (GAC) water filtration units capable of filtering a total of up to 10 million gallons per day.  They are currently in Michigan and we are coordinating military airlift to bring them here.  These are huge units requiring multiple lifts.  And then significant effort to assemble, connect, and get them operating.  But my goal is to have them up and operating within 2-3 weeks.
  • We are working with DOH and other stakeholders on where to send this water.  It will be clean filtered water that is safe for the environment.  But still some work to figure out where to send it.
  • Finally, we will be working with the best environment minds in the world, to include the local experts I’m assembling, to ensure the Red Hill Shaft is fully safe

Finally, one of our challenges throughout this event is the lack of an on island water testing capability that can analyze to the sensitivity we need.  All of our samples are being flown to certified third party labs on the mainland which adds time.  Both Navy and DOH have some local capability but not at the sensitivity we really need.  We are very interested in working with local interests to develop this capability in Hawaii.  I would prefer that this capability be operated by a third party entity.  I don’t want to grade my own homework as it were.  But I want this capability on island in whatever way I can get it.  And this would greatly benefit DOH as well.

Thank you very much and I look forward to your questions. I will now pass along to Doc McGinnis to address some medical aspects of the issue

Capt. Michael McGinnis:

Aloha and good afternoon. My name is Capt. Michael McGinnis and I am the Pacific Fleet surgeon and medical advisor to the U.S. Pacific Fleet. In this capacity I am supporting the Crisis Action Team by leading a joint health service work group that is built among senior leadership from our operational medical leaders as well as MTFs (Military Treatment Facilities) and interagency leaders that we have on island.

Our priority is the safety and care of our families. We need to get this right and we’re fully committed to doing so. We have a robust joint and interagency team. High level leaders within our organizations are engaged and synchronized, communicating openly together, collaborating to solve this problem set. This is a challenge that we are all engaged and working towards.

The Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force teams on island are bringing to full bear the teams we have within our medical forces and to facilitate access to care for those that are concerned about how this water may be impacting our families.

Just to highlight this, the 3rd Medical Battalion has been brought from Kaneohe Bay supporting Tripler as far as access within the hospital there and Makalapa Clinic, they have also established community outreach medical centers in our communities. The 25th ID has medical care within the community for Red Hill and the AMR housing area. The Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center has sent us subject matter experts in environmental health, water quality, and toxicology. The Army Public Health Center, located in Maryland, is fully engaged with our team and providing remote and on-island expertise, looking at how we evaluate, provide guidance that our community needs, as well as looking at how we monitor the safety and health outcomes for our patient populations over time.

Regional Health Command Pacific has subject matter experts that are leveraged with INDOPACOM, and INDOPACOM is also embedded with us here at PACFLT to ensure we have synchrony and unity in effort.

The highlight, in Navy Medicine, they are bringing the full breadth and depth capability to us, they deployed medical teams to us within 12 hours of notification of our request and we’re receiving full support from the Naval Medical Forces that we have within the U.S. Navy. The highlight capability that we have within the team: environmental health, occupational health, public health, and toxicology coming and supporting engaged with us, embedded in our naval facilities work group to ensure that we are bringing expert medical counsel to guide us to the right solutions.

Pending any additional questions.

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