On December 7, 1941, my parents were still in elementary school when the attack on Pearl Harbor happened and the United States was poised to enter World War II. Yet even though I was probably not even a thought on the distant horizon, and wouldn’t be born for another 27 years, I still think about Pearl Harbor every December 7th. I think about the nearly 2,500 men and women who died that day. I think about the men and women who survived that day, and what they saw, and how they felt. I think about the survivors who are still with us, and I am saddened by the memories that they have carried with them these 74 years.
Maybe one day I will visit Pearl Harbor and be able to pay my respects at the USS Arizona memorial, and hopefully learn more about what happened that day and about the people who experienced it. Now, I know that the memorial has been constructed over the remains of the USS Arizona, which has lain partially submerged in the harbor, its hull clearly visible beneath the waters, the base of one of the gun turrets breaking the surface. I know that the ship is the final resting place of 1,102 sailors and Marines who died when the ship exploded and sank. It is a grave, and should be treated with respect. Yet, it concerns me that, even now, the USS Arizona leaks fuel into the water at a rate somewhere between 2 and 9 quarts every day. In addition, the ship itself was constructed of steel which, as we know, corrodes in water. As the hull corrodes further, the quantity of fuel released into the water could increase dramatically, jeopardizing aquatic life, groundwater, and those who depend on that groundwater. Moreover, there are other ships and sites all over the Pearl Harbor Naval Complex with similar environmental issues.
This is not to say that measures have not been taken to contain and clean up leaked fuel and other hazardous contaminants. The entire Pearl Harbor Naval Complex has been on the Environmental Protection Agency’s National Priority List since 1992. But the fact of where it is and what it represents poses problems that the Deepwater Horizon disaster or a gas station UST release, for example, do not. How do you protect human health and the environment while still respecting the burial place of thousands of people and a site with so much historical significance?
I don’t know the answer to that question. However, it is my hope that the delicate balance between preservation and conservation is respected in addressing the environmental concerns at Pearl Harbor.