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