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Navy: Fuel found outside steel tank in Hawaii

Jan. 16, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
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HONOLULU — Navy officials investigating a possible leak at an underground Hawaii facility found fuel outside the tank's first layer, a spokesman said Thursday.

The Navy is working with state and county officials after a discrepancy was found in the tank's levels earlier this week.

It's been determined there is fuel outside the tank's steel layer, but it's not clear whether there was any fuel outside the outer concrete and rock layers, Navy Region Hawaii spokesman Tom Clements said.

"Measurements will take time," he said. "We're moving fuel out of the tank."

Capt. Mark Wheeler, the Navy official in charge of the facility as commander of Fleet Logistics Center Pearl Harbor, said officials were finishing the process of refilling the tank when the discrepancy was measured. He said the tank had been down for the past four years as part of a routine maintenance cycle and started being refueled Dec. 10, 2013.

When operators found the measurement discrepancy, they began transferring fuel immediately to another tank, a process that could take up to five days, the Navy said. Nearby wells were closed as a precaution.

Wheeler said inspectors found a 3-foot wet spot on the concrete wall outside the tank, which matched the fuel inside the tank.

Wheeler said as much as 20,000 gallons may have leaked, but it could be significantly less and it's difficult to tell immediately with tanks so large.

"One inch in that tank is thousands of gallons," he said.

The 200-foot tall cylinders can hold 12.6 million gallons each, but Wheeler said they're generally only filled to 12 million gallons. The tank had about 12 million gallons when the leak was detected, he said.

"We're not aware of an imminent threat to the environment or public health," state Department of Health spokeswoman Janice Okubo said. She said a department hazardous materials team is working with the Navy and samples have been taken.

"We don't believe there's any need for conservation actions in terms of limiting access to drinking water or anything like that," Okubo said.

The Honolulu Board of Water Supply is also monitoring the situation and conducting a separate investigation. The board has taken samples to see if there's any contamination of drinking water, spokeswoman Jill Kuramoto said.

The Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility held fuel for American planes in World War II. It has 20 tanks that have capacity to store a total of 252 million gallons, buried about 100 feet underground.

___

Associated Press writer Oskar Garcia contributed to this report.

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