W. M. Keck Observatory takes its responsibility for good stewardship of Maunakea very seriously. That’s why we are deeply committed to full transparency for our staff and our community as we work to understand how, why, and to what extent a small amount of hydraulic fluid has been seeping from the hydraulic bearing system at our Maunakea facility.
We confirmed the presence of what we assume is hydraulic fluid in the cinder directly beneath the telescope on June 4, 2018, and immediately reported it to the Hawaii Department of Health. We are cooperating fully with all appropriate authorities, including the Department of Health, the Department of Land and Natural Resources and the Office of Maunakea Management. And we have launched our own investigation, with the guidance of third-party environmental consultants Masa Fujioka and Associates.
We will post updates to this page as our investigation proceeds and our response plan is formulated. We are ready to answer any questions you may have, so please contact Mari-Ela Chock at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATES (NEWEST ON TOP)
November 9, 2018
Full transparency and responsible management have been – and continue to be – W. M. Keck Observatory’s top priorities throughout our investigation into the relatively small leaks of hydraulic fluid at our Maunakea facility.
Keck Observatory took immediate action to fully contain the leaks, immediately notified the Hawaii State Department of Health (HDOH), the Office of Maunakea Management (OMKM) and the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), and took action to permanently prevent any further release by installing a sealant into a one-inch wide gap that was identified as the pathway through which hydraulic fluid traveled to the ground below.
Keck Observatory’s investigation has now concluded. Per HDOH regulations, a full report, prepared by third-party environmental, geotechnical and hydrogeological consulting and engineering firm Masa Fujioka and Associates (MFA), was submitted to the HDOH on Friday, November 9, 2018.
According to the report:
“MFA finds that based on regulatory guidelines, the release is a “low-risk” and low-priority case because the volume of potentially contaminated soil (PCS) is small and does not pose a significant risk to human health and the environment. The release site is concrete capped, and neither groundwater nor surface water are likely to be impacted.”
The report’s key findings include:
The estimated leak rate of hydraulic fluid at the time of discovery was 0.46 gallons/month.
The duration of the leak could not be definitively determined because the evidence of the leak was hidden behind drywall prior to maintenance work conducted in April 2018. Without a start date for the seepage, the total quantity is difficult to estimate. However, a conservative upper limit is needed to determine what regulatory action to take. As such, Keck Observatory based the estimate on the unlikely scenario that the leak began when the hydraulic bearing system was first installed nearly three decades ago. For this conservative case, the total volume of affected cinder would be approximately 2.5 cubic meters, which is equivalent to the amount of soil you can fit heaped in the long bed of a standard full size pick-up truck.
As the site exists today, there are no direct exposure pathways.
The affected cinder is under an enclosed dome, completely covered by the building’s concrete floor. This ‘cap’ prevents rainwater from interacting with and spreading the hydraulic fluid. No people, animals, or plants can be exposed to and impacted by the fluid. Furthermore, there is no groundwater in the vicinity. According to the report, electrical resistivity studies show that groundwater is several thousand feet below Keck Observatory’s Maunakea facility. Also, there is no surface water at the site. Thus, MFA finds that neither groundwater nor surface water are likely to be impacted.
The hydraulic fluid is clean, has low toxicity, and is non-volatile.
The release consists of clean Mobil SHC 525 hydraulic fluid that has not been mixed with any other fluids. Thus, its composition can be determined via the product’s Safety Data Sheet, which shows the fluid does not contain PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and has minimal toxicity. Because it has not been subjected to high heat or combustion, the hydraulic fluid is non-volatile. As such, the fluid does not create an inhalation or vapor hazard.
The recommended action is to manage in place.
Based on HDOH guidelines, Masa Fujioka and Associates recommends that management in place is appropriate for several reasons:
- The total volume of potentially impacted cinders is small, and does not pose a significant risk to human health and the environment;
- The hydraulic fluid’s toxicity is minimal and not volatile;
- The only current potential hazard is gross contamination, which means there’s a release that exists. However, there are no direct exposure pathways for human, plants, or animals to be affected;
- The release is not a hazard under current conditions because there are engineering controls in place in the form of concrete covering the impacted cinders;
- It is not feasible to remove the impacted cinders at this time;
- When it comes time for decommissioning and site restoration, an Environmental Hazard Management Plan (EHMP) will be implemented to mitigate potential future hazards of the impacted cinder.
Having submitted the final report, Keck Observatory awaits final determination and direction from the HDOH.
October 5, 2018
The release is now permanently contained. On Friday, September 28, Sakoda Construction, a general contractor based in Hilo hired by W. M. Keck Observatory, re-sealed the one-inch wide gap between the pier supporting the Keck I telescope and the building’s floor.
This gap was identified during the Observatory’s investigation as the pathway through which hydraulic fluid seeped out of the hydraulic bearing system and traveled to the ground below. Sakoda Construction applied a polysulfide liquid that hardens to a rubber-like consistency into the gap.
Prior to installation, Keck Observatory engineers tested the effectiveness of the sealant, which proved to be a successful barrier to the hydraulic fluid; it is the same kind of material used to seal swimming pools.
With the installation of the sealant, there is no longer a path for hydraulic fluid, or any other substances, to release into the environment.
September 20, 2018
On September 5, representatives of the Hawaii State Department of Health (HDOH), Hazard Evaluation and Emergency Response Office (HEER), and Office of Maunakea Management (OMKM) visited the summit to assess the situation and provide additional guidance and recommendations for preparation of the Environmental Hazard Evaluation (EHE) and Environmental Hazard Management Plan (EHMP).
Elise Leroux of Masa Fujioka & Associates (MFA), who also joined the tour, summarized the overall findings, saying, “What we recommend is management in place. In other words, there’s really no need to take further action at this time, other than documenting what has happened: the release, what’s known about it, the location, potential hazards, and a simple environmental hazard management plan.”
Interim containment of the hydraulic fluid remains in place to prevent further release into the environment. We are in the process of implementing permanent containment measures to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
The HDOH has requested additional information that would be helpful for a full understanding of the situation, including site and construction drawings.
August 10, 2018
In order to give the Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and Office of Maunakea Management (OMKM) full visibility into our pier oil investigation, representatives of both organizations visited our summit facilities on Aug. 1 for an in-person site inspection.
The visit was thorough, giving the oversight agencies a chance to get a first-hand look at the seepage and containment measures in place to ensure no further hydraulic fluid can reach the ground.
Bob Masuda, DLNR’s First Deputy, spoke with reassurance that Keck Observatory’s ongoing efforts are on the right track.
“We appreciate Keck’s openness and transparency in dealing with this technical issue,” said Masuda. “Personal inspection and on-site briefing provided clear comprehension of the issue and seepage remediation. Keck has and is doing things right, reporting directly in a timely manner, applying highly professional response, and dealing with things forthrightly.”
July 17, 2018
Since the formation of our internal investigation task force in May, conducting a rigorous exploration of possible releases of hydraulic fluid to the environment from our hydrostatic bearing systems (HBS) has been W. M. Keck Observatory’s top priority.
Much progress has been made.
On June 7, Masa Fujioka and Associates (MFA), a third-party environmental, geotechnical, and hydrogeological consulting and engineering firm that Keck Observatory hired, conducted a site reconnaissance, and we know now the full extent of the release at our facility.
The investigation revealed that the total release includes a small leak coming from a hydraulic fluid return line located a few feet away from the Keck II pier; this leak was also immediately contained.
We will continue executing preventative measures for all leak locations as we work with the Hawaii State Department of Health and the Office of Maunakea Management to determine next steps.
MFA continues to conduct its investigation and analysis, and we are providing them with additional data needed to complete their assessment.
Following an initial consultation with HDOH, and with MFA’s guidance, MFA is preparing an Environmental Hazard Evaluation (EHE) and Environmental Hazard Management Plan (EHMP) on behalf of Keck Observatory, as required by HDOH HEER office’s Technical Guidance Manual.
We remain committed to working in accordance with HDOH and are giving this investigation the full attention it requires as the Observatory’s top priority.