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Secretary of Defense statement on water contamination issues on Oahu

13 December 2021
Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III released a statement today concerning the ongoing water situation.

Nothing is more important to me or to this Department than the health, safety and well-being of our people and their families, as well as that of residents living near our installations.  

To that end, I am receiving daily updates by the Navy Department about fresh water contamination near the strategically important Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam – contamination that has directly affected thousands of military members and their families.

More than three thousand have been displaced from their military housing and are living temporarily in hotels, and thousands have been evaluated by medical staff.  

We take this very seriously.  And I am personally monitoring our progress and our mitigation efforts. Indeed, Navy leadership updates me daily on the measures they are taking to care for affected military personnel and families, to restore the safety of the water system in military housing, and to coordinate with local authorities – in particular the Hawaii State Department of Health – about the best way forward.

They have also provided me an update on the status of the Navy's investigation into the causes of this contamination and its plan to supplement environmental health measures on the island with additional resources and experts.  

I fully support the Navy's decision to suspend operations at the Red Hill Underground Storage Tanks while investigative efforts continue and their commitment to conduct an independent study of operations and system integrity at Red Hill.

My expectation is that military leaders in Hawaii will continue to do everything they can – as fast as they can – to return residents safely back to their homes and to communicate clearly and frequently the steps they are taking to do so.  I appreciate the value of their efforts to date: providing temporary lodging, establishing a Pregnancy Medical Advice Hotline, delivering more than 150,000 gallons of potable water, and flying in additional water filtration systems to the island.  

I also expect them to continue keeping Hawaiian residents, legislators and leaders fully informed.  Adm. Paparo, the Pacific Fleet Commander, is now the on-scene commander and understands those expectations. But in that same spirit, I have asked Deputy Secretary Hicks to visit the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility this week during her travel to Hawaii and to consult with Navy leaders, local officials, experts, and affected personnel and families.

As I said, nothing is more important than the health and well-being of our people and our neighbors.  We will solve this problem, and we will do so safely, expeditiously and transparently.

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