In Memory of Dr. Emmett Aluli, Shut Down Red Hill

Inside Red Hill Fuel Storage Facility. Photograph Source: United States Navy Pacific Fleet – Public Domain

In November 2021, 20,000 gallons of jet fuel spewed from the U.S. Navy’s Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility into the drinking water well serving 93,000 mostly military personnel and their dependents on Oʻahu. Initially claiming that all the fuel had been recovered, the Navy defied the State of Hawaiʻi’s order to stop utilizing the facility for months. Hundreds of families were sickened, and those served by the Navy well had to live in hotels.

The Red Hill Facility consists of 20 underground tanks constructed in the 1940s, each of the 20 tanks holds 12.5 million gallons of fuel. Over a hundred million gallons of fuel remains in the tanks, located only 100 feet above the aquifer that supplies all of urban Honolulu. Having previously claimed before that the system was sound, the Navy now says that it could take one or two years to repair the pipelines in order to drain the tanks safely.

Most recently, on November 29, 2022, 1,300 gallons of fire-fighting aqueous film forming foam (AFFF) containing perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) were spilled at the Red Hill Facility. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, PFAS are known carcinogens and can cause decreased fertility, developmental delays in children, hormonal dysfunction, obesity, and immunosuppression. The strength of the carbon-fluorine bond in PFAS resist breakdown, even by incineration. They are “forever chemicals,” persistent in water and biologically concentrated in foods such as fish.

They are toxic in concentrations measured in parts per quadrillion (a million billion). One teaspoon can destroy the water supply of a city. In Hawaiʻi only the U.S. military utilizes AFFF containing PFAS. Civilian firefighters in Hawaiʻi do not use it.

The revelation of the most recent spill prompted community organizations, including Oʻahu Water Protectors, the Hawaiʻi People’s Fund, the Hawaiʻi Youth Climate Coalition, Queen’s Court, and the Sierra Club of Hawai‘i, to organize a “Walk for Wai”  (wai = water) rally and march on December 10, 2022. What follows are my remarks at the rally.

Remarks for Walk for Wai

Today I am speaking on behalf of the Hawaii Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines or HiCHRP. I would like to reflect on the passing just last month of Dr. “Kauka” Noa Emmett Auwae Aluli. Dr. Aluli taught us that the health of the people depends on the health of the ‘āina. Dr. Aluli found it intolerable that the U.S. Navy used the island of Kahoʻolawe for target practice, making it unsuitable for human habitation, and finally cracking its water table. In 1976, as one of the Kahoʻolawe Nine, he risked arrest, his medical career, and his life by occupying and re-claiming Kahoʻolawe. It took another 14 years before the U.S. Navy finally stopped bombing Kahoʻolawe, but the bold action of the Kahoʻolawe Nine was the beginning of the struggle.

Even today, we see how the U.S. military utterly disregards the health of the people and the health of the ‘āina by their occupation of Red Hill. Global domination by the U.S. military is the overarching goal. If the land is poisoned or the people are poisoned along the way, so what? Sacrifices have to be made, and Hawaiʻi is a sacrifice zone. The role that the U.S. military assigns to Hawaiʻi is to be the command and control center for the coming war with China. As Kyle Kajihiro teaches us, Oʻahu is the head of the heʻe or the octopus. Therefore the placement of the Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaiʻi. Therefore the RIMPAC Naval Exercises, in the waters around Hawaiʻi. Since World War II, the Red Hill tanks have been used to store fuel for military ships and aircraft across the Pacific.

In order to contain China, the U.S. military seeks allies in nations surrounding China. Among them is the Philippines – which together with Taiwan, South Korea, Okinawa, Japan, and Guam – will play a crucial role as a staging area from where the U.S. will launch offensives. In November, Kamala Harris was in the Philippines to strengthen ties between the U.S. and Philippine militaries and between the U.S. and Philippine governments. Her visit gives legitimacy to Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., the son of the dictator who imposed martial law on the Philippines in 1972 and who oversaw the use of US bases in Clark and Subic Bay as staging areas during the Vietnam War.

In the Philippines, the Marcos government continues to red-tag activists, and perpetrate extra-judicial killings. Today, on international Human Rights Day, we must recognize that the human rights situation has not improved since Marcos took over from Duterte. This, too, is the price that the people pay for global domination by the U.S. military.

Dr. Emmett Aluli said, “We commit for generations, not just for careers. We set things up now so that they’ll be carried on.” It is up to us to carry on the commitment that Dr. Aluli showed by occupying Kahoʻolawe. We must not stop until we get the U.S. military out of the Philippines and out of the ‘āina.

Water is a human right!

Health is a human right!

Seiji Yamada, a native of Hiroshima, is a family physician practicing and teaching in Hawaii.