Schofield Barracks Wastewater Treatment Plant is the likely culprit.High levels of carcinogen PFAS are present in the water at Kunia Village on the island of Oahu. The land and water have been poisoned by the U.S Army, while the state looks the other way.
The residents of Kunia Village are drinking water contaminated with dangerous levels of per-and poly fluoroalkyl substances, (PFAS). Concentrations of PFOS were measured at 50 parts per trillion, (ppt) while PFOA concentrations were reported at 27 ppt, according to the Hawaii Department of Health. Although the chemicals are thousands of times over EPA health advisories, the state downplays the threat to public health and suggests that concerned residents use a home filtration system to reduce PFAS in the drinking water.
Readers must grasp the significance here. The state is complicit in poisoning people.
The PFAS in Kunia’s water likely comes from five Army installations in the immediate vicinity that send their wastewater to the privately owned Schofield Barracks Wastewater Treatment Plant. The tainted waters are re-used for agricultural purposes, likely causing groundwater and surface water contamination.
This is terrible public policy.
The Schofield Barracks Wastewater Treatment Plant provides treatment for wastewater received from Schofield Barracks, Wheeler Army Airfield, Camp Stover, Kunia Military Reservation, and Helemano Military Reservation.
Wastewater treatment plants act as grand central stations for PFAS. Often, the drains from military hangars and workshops carry heavy loads of PFAS from a host of applications, including engine cleaning, chrome plating, and wire coating. Massive amounts of the toxins have historically been released into sewer drain systems from overhead fire suppression systems due to routine testing and frequent accidents.
Landfills at military bases are typically loaded with PFAS chemicals, while the leachate draining from these sites contains astronomical concentrations of the carcinogens. Often, this leachate is pumped to wastewater treatment plants that treat the water for a host of chemicals, but not PFAS.
The Army sold the Schofield Barracks Wastewater Treatment Plant to Aqua Engineers in 2004. Throughout the country, the DOD is ridding itself of these potential liabilities.
According to Scott Bly with Aqua Engineers, “100% of the effluent is re-used on food crops. We take water that would typically be dumped into the ocean. We clean that water to the highest quality standards.”
And there’s the rub.
They’re likely telling the truth, like the Hawaii Department of Health that says the Kunia Village system “continues to be in full compliance with all federal and state standards for drinking water.” The criminally negligent EPA has voluntary advisories for these chemicals which are still not considered to be “hazardous substances.” The state doesn’t regulate PFAS. Certainly, the Army bears no responsibility.
Aqua began selling water to Kunia farmers at below market rates. The resulting system is Hawaii’s largest reuse irrigation system. This water is not directly used for drinking water, although it is likely to be saturated with PFAS. The chemicals poison crops.
The compounds contaminate groundwater and surface water that find pathways to human consumption through drinking water and seafood consumption. PFOS, PFOA and other PFAS compounds, like the killer, PFHxS, dry out from sediment on farm fields and stream beds. The sun bakes them and they’re lifted as dust to settle in our lungs and homes.
In Kunia Village, Second City Property Management, Inc. manages all properties, collect all fees, pays all bills, and provides reporting, water meter readings and water sampling and coordination with labs for testing.
Brief History of Kunia Village
In 2010 the James Campbell Company conveyed Kunia Village and surrounding agricultural lands to the Hawaii Agriculture Research Center (HARC) for the purpose of maintaining affordable rental housing.
The Village consists of a 118-acre parcel containing 135 housing units that are mostly single-family houses, and roughly 150,000 square feet of agricultural warehouses, and offices that are currently occupied by agricultural companies.
Since 2007, Second City Property Management, Inc. has managed over 4,000 acres at one time leased by Del Monte. In addition to running the 5 million gallon per day agricultural water system, the company performs maintenance on over 100 plantation style homes, operates a domestic drinking water system for over 100 homes and commercial tenants including a forced air stripping tower to clean the water from prior military contamination, according to testimony provided by the company through the 30th Legislature Application for Grants.
According to the Department of Planning and Permitting of the city and county of Honolulu, “A potable water system is provided, and primarily consists of former Del Monte wells (i.e., Wells 3 and 4, an air stripping tower, a 305,000-gallon tank, and distribution pipes). These facilities are owned by the Kunia Village Title Holding Corporation, and are operated by Second City Property Management company.
Air stripping is a process by which a liquid, usually water or wastewater, is brought into intimate contact with a gas, usually air, so that toxins present in the liquid phase can be released and carried away by the gas. Air stripping is designed to remove chemicals called “volatile organic compounds” or “VOCs.”
Air stripping may result in PFAS being released as aerosols, contaminating soils, groundwater, and surface water over and over and over again, like Groundhog Day. We must stop manufacturing these chemicals.
Kunia Field Station
Kunia Field Station was an underground military base built during World War II. The station is located about 8,400 feet north of Kunia Village, on the west side of Kunia Rd.
In response to the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the installation was designed and built as a bomb-proof, underground open bay with about 6 acres of floorspace to facilitate aircraft assembly close to Wheeler Army Airfield. The facility is now known as the Hawaii Cryptologic Center, a National Security Agency outpost.
In 1994, a 305,000-gallon underground storage tank containing diesel fuel was removed from the installation. During removal, it was discovered that there was an uncontrolled release of fuel. Although there is no publicly available record documenting the use of PFAS at this site, all military fuel depots are believed to be fitted with PFAS-loaded fire suppression systems. These systems were routinely tested and the foams were often allowed to seep into groundwater and surface water.
The 2022 National Defense Authorization Act required the DOD to provide a briefing on the progress of all ongoing environmental remediation actions to “clean up” PFOS and PFOA on military installations across the country. In June, 2022, the Army reported that Preliminary Assessments and Site Inspections were underway at Kunia Field Station, Schofield Barracks, and the Waikakalaua Ammunition Storage Tunnels, located on the east side of Kunia Road, close to the Schofield Barracks Wastewater Treatment Plant, just 10,000 feet from Kunia Village.
Ammunition storage areas, like the one at Waikakalaua, are typically outfitted with overhead suppression systems like the one at Red Hill that released 1,300 gallons of aqueous film-forming foam concentrate.
The public must have access to PFAS Site Inspections from the DOD. Site Inspections are reports that show data on PFAS concentrations in groundwater and surface water.
The region’s soils and groundwater have also been profoundly contaminated by the worm-killing pesticides used by the Del Monte Corporation. Many pesticides are known to contain PFAS, including: abamectin, novaluron, imidacloprid, spiromesifen, and malathion. We don’t know what Del Monte used on the pineapples in Oahu.
The Del Monte Kunia 3 well is supplying drinking water to Kunia Village that far exceeds US EPA advisories and Hawaii Environmental Action Levels for concentrations of various PFAS compounds. High rates of cancer and birth defects are associated with the dangerous levels of PFAS in this drinking water.
To understand the PFAS contamination in Kunia Village’s drinking water it’s important to master the mathematics of it all. Allow me lay out a series of numbers in rows and columns and then explain them, one step at a time. It’s a left brain / right brain thing, so hang on.
PFAS levels in drinking water at Kunia Village
and associated Environmental Action Levels
Data in ug/L provided by Hawaii Department of Health
Ug/L is micrograms per liter, or parts per billion.
ppt is parts per trillion.
EAL is Hawaii’s “Environmental Action Level.”
The EPA LHA is the Lifetime Health Advisory for drinking water.
Easy Does It. One Dot at a Time!
- Way back in 2016, the EPA’s advisory was set at 70 ppt for PFOS and PFOA combined. The vast majority of the nation’s water suppliers took steps to achieve these levels.
- Kunia Village’s levels exceed these Neanderthal levels. (27 ppt for PFOA + 50 ppt for PFOS = 77 ppt)
- PFOA was found at 27 ppt at Kunia Village while the EPA advisory is .004. Kunia’s levels are 6,750 times over the EPA limit.
- The DOH Environmental Action Level is 6 ppt for PFOA. The EAL is 1,500 times higher than the EPA’s LHA (6 / .004 = 1,500)
- What the hell?
- PFHxS levels also exceed the HI EAL
- See if you can decipher what an “Environmental Action Level” is. They’re supposed to do something. I don’t understand it. https://health.hawaii.gov/heer/guidance/ehe-and-eals/
- PFOS was found at 50 ppt while the EPA Advisory is .02 ppt. Kunia’s levels are 2,500 times over that limit.
- For PFOA, Hawaii’s Environmental Action Level (EAL) is 6 ppt while the EPA’s Lifetime Health Advisory (LHA) is .004 ppt.
- HI’s EAL for PFOA is 1,500 times over the EPA’s LHA.
- For PFOS, HI’s EAL is 4 ppt while the EPA’s LHA is .02 ppt.
- HI’s EAL for PFOS is 200 times over the EPA’s LHA.
- Massachusetts keeps the total of these 6 compounds: PFOS, PFOA, PFHxS PFHpA, PFNA, and PFDA under 20 ppt in drinking water. If a water system exceeds this contaminant level, the well is immediately shut down.
- In Kunia Village, the total for PFOA, PFOS, PHHxS, and PPHpA totaled 161 ppt and the people are still drinking it.
- That’s 8 times over the MA limit for just four of the “MA 6.” DOH did not provide results for PFNA or PFDA. DOH did not provide the list of all the compounds they tested.
- People with high levels of PFBA have higher odds of being hospitalized, winding up in intensive care, and dying from COVID than those with lower levels. Why such a high EAL for PFBA?
The levels of PFOA, PFOS, and PFHxS total 150 ppt in Kunia’s water. See the PFAS Blood Level Estimation Tool by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, (ATSDR). The ATSDR blood estimation results for a hypothetical Kunia Village resident show blood levels that far exceed safe concentrations of PFAS in blood established by the National Academies of Sciences.
The state has the responsibility to take care of the residents of Kunia Village, although the state doesn’t see it that way. Residents must immediately be supplied with clean bottled water, provided blood testing and follow-up health care.
Thank you, Rachel Clark, for your translations into Japanese.
The financial support we receive from the Downs Law Group makes this work possible.
The firm is working to provide legal representation to individuals with a high likelihood of exposure to PFAS and other contaminants.
Interested in joining a multi-base class action law suit pertaining to illnesses stemming from various kinds of environmental contamination?
Join the Veterans & Civilians Clean Water Alliance Facebook group. (2.2K members and growing rapidly.)
Military Poisons and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, US are continuing to raise funds to cover the costs of PFAS seafood testing in Maryland, Washington, DC, Virginia, and Florida. You can make a tax-deductible contribution here. What’s in your fish? What’s in your blood?
Pat Elder is a member of World BEYOND War’s Board of Directors. He is the author of Military Recruiting in the United States, and the director of the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy, an organization that works to counter the militarization of America’s high schools. Elder was a co-founder of the DC Antiwar Network and a long-time member of the Steering Committee of the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth. His articles have appeared in Truth Out, Common Dreams, Alternet, L.A. Progressive, Sojourner’s Magazine, and U.S. Catholic Magazine. He has been instrumental in helping to convince more than a thousand schools to take steps to protect student data from recruiters. Elder helped to organize a successful series of demonstrations to shut down the Army Experience Center, a first-person shooter video arcade in a Philadelphia suburb. Pat Elder worked to pressure the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child to call on the Obama Administration to adhere to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict regarding military recruiting practices in the schools. Elder hold a master’s in government from the University of Maryland.