A badly installed air vacuum valve and poor maintenance are responsible for the leak of firefighting chemicals at Hawaii’s Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in November 2022, according to a new report by the U.S. Navy.

The new report from Joint Task Force-Red Hill looked into the Nov. 29 incident, which saw Aqueous Film Forming Foam, or AFFF, spread until their container was empty. The foam contains the cancer-linked toxic materials known as PFAS, or “forever chemicals.” A contractor with Kinetix did not properly install air vacuum valves with the firefighting system at the depot in April 2022. In addition, the same contractor failed to disable pumps containing AFFF before a test of the firefighting system, leading to the 20-minute spill in November.

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“I ordered this investigation to determine what caused the accidental release of AFFF concentrate and to reduce the risk of a future mishap,” JTF-RH Commander Vice Adm. John Wade said in a statement on the investigation. “A focused investigation allowed us to effectively determine how and why the release occurred. We used this information to immediately implement risk reduction measures across the entire facility and to notify the Department of Defense (DoD) of actions that can be taken to further reduce risk in areas outside the purview of JTF-RH. The safe and expeditious defueling of Red Hill remains our top priority to protect the people and environment of Hawaii.”

The November leak of AFFF came a year after a fuel leak at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility. The November 2021 spill forced military families to be displaced. Many reported side effects from the water, including rashes and other illnesses. A subsequent investigation by the military found a series of errors by the Navy that contributed to the severity of the spill. 

In addition to the poor installation, the Navy failed to properly inspect the system once installed.

As with the fuel leak, the AFFF release was located only 100 feet above the Southern Oahu Basal Aquifer, a major source of freshwater for the Hawaiian island of Oahu. The Navy has been dealing with the fallout of the different leaks for months. 

Following the November 2022 spill, contaminated soil and asphalt were removed and paved over. The Navy has been doing soil testing since. 

The investigation into the leak started in early December. Investigators were able to use on-site video to help their research. 

As a result of the investigation, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command ordered a review of the maintenance oversight process as well as a review of all potentially hazardous material in the facility. 

The Navy is continuing to do tests on the ground and water around the fuel depot. 

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