US Navy to close illegal cesspools at Pearl Harbor

Yesterday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced an agreement with the U.S. Navy to close three illegal large capacity cesspools on Oahu.

The Navy will pay a civil penalty of $94,212 for violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

All large capacity cesspools must be closed to protect Hawaii’s drinking water and coastal resources,” said Alexis Strauss, EPA’s Acting Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “As a result of our action, Pearl Harbor has replaced its remaining large cesspools with approved wastewater treatment systems.”

During May 2013 inspections, EPA found the Navy continued to use cesspools despite a 2005 ban under the Act’s Underground Injection Control program. After Pearl Harbor Naval Station and Hickam Air Force Base combined operations in 2010, a Navy audit revealed that the Joint Base had nine large capacity cesspools. The Navy closed six cesspools in 2012, but failed to close the remaining three in a timely manner. The three respective cesspools served a total of about 160 people at three facilities: a munitions storage area, a hangar and a troop mobilization area. The Navy has since properly closed the remaining three non-compliant cesspools.

Cesspools collect and discharge untreated raw sewage into the ground, where disease-causing pathogens and harmful chemicals can contaminate groundwater, streams and the ocean. Groundwater provides 99 percent of all domestic water in Hawaii, where cesspools are used more widely than in than any other state. Since a ban was put in place in 2005, over 3,000 large capacity cesspools have been closed state-wide, many through voluntary compliance. The ban does not apply to single-family homes connected to individual cesspools.

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