Navy Admits Pearl Harbor Well Contaminated With Oil; Families are frantic

The Navy confirmed on Thursday that a well near Pearl Harbor is contaminated with a petroleum product, four days after residents of military housing began reporting drinking water problems.

During a virtual town hall on Thursday evening, Deputy Commander Pacific Fleet Rear Admiral Blake Converse said the service’s Red Hill well tested positive for petroleum hydrocarbons late Sunday and for petroleum vapors Thursday.

He added that the Red Hill well “has been isolated” since Sunday, meaning the Navy has taken it out of service.

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“A test was conducted Sunday evening shortly after this incident was identified to the Navy, and this test identified traces of highly volatile hydrocarbons that would normally be associated with JP-5. [jet fuel] or diesel fuel, more than likely JP-5 or gasoline,” Converse said.

In a statement on Thursday, the Navy said the sample contained levels of petroleum hydrocarbons “approximately four to ten times lower” than the level required by the Hawaii Department of Health to require action to fix the problem.

But, they added, the service was taking steps to restore the well to Environmental Protection Agency drinking water standards, and it will remain offline until the problem is resolved.

On multiple occasions earlier in the week, Navy officials had said they had conducted tests that were found to be clean, including a Tuesday morning post on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam’s Facebook page that said “no measurable fuel [were] find.”

Converse said the Red Hill well appears to be the only one affected, with tests on 14 others in the system coming back negative.

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Affected areas include parts of Pearl Harbor-Hickam; the Aliamanu military reserve, where many army families live; and Red Hill and Nimitz Elementary Schools.

Following the findings, the service is working to authorize a temporary housing allowance so affected residents can pay for hotels — a reimbursement that Navy officials said would likely begin Friday.

Converse added that they are also considering introducing a laundry service and are “working with policy and legal officials” to see if families can get back part of their housing allowance to offset the costs associated with pollution.

But Navy families say efforts are not enough. Families had paid out of pocket to buy water before the Navy brought in trucks and were already staying in hotels, taking their laundry to laundromats and racking up vet bills because their pets drank water. ‘water.

Military family members also fell ill, developing headaches, rashes and nosebleeds and suffering from vomiting, diarrhea and other health symptoms that sent them not only to clinics in military health facilities, but also in civilian emergency care services and emergency rooms, where they may be charged for the services.

Navy wife Lou Tuttle, who has previously spoken to about the health issues her family has experienced, including an ER visit for her eldest child resulting in stomach and esophageal pain after drinking water, said she was out of breath.

She said she couldn’t afford to pay out of pocket to go to a hotel and wait for the Navy to reimburse her husband, and added that the Army had moved families to hotels and set up a ” one-stop shop” to help those affected.

To make matters worse, her home lost power on Friday morning.

“So we don’t have water or electricity. I don’t know what to do. We’re currently living in totally unsanitary accommodation,” Tuttle said. “I can’t even heat the water to wash my children.”

A Navy spokesperson confirmed that some Pearl Harbor living areas lost power Friday morning.

The navy and army, which manage housing on the Aliamanu military reserve, also affected by the contamination, have received nearly 1,000 reports of contaminated water from residents.

The Hawaii Department of Health announced on Wednesday that its tests found petroleum products in samples taken from Red Hill Elementary School.

He then advised all residents of the Navy water system to avoid using the water for drinking, cooking or brushing their teeth.

And he said those who smelled an odor should avoid using the water for bathing, washing dishes and laundry.

The Navy has established a medical hotline and walk-in medical clinics for residents to receive medical advice and will establish a registry to track those affected, according to Converse.

Representatives from the Navy Marine Corps Public Health Center will arrive Monday to begin toxicology and environmental health support, he added.

Those who live in areas where they have not been contaminated may be able to use the water for baths and showers as early as Friday and should have test results that would clear the water to drink in three to four days, according to Converse.

However, residents who have reported an odor, glistening or distillate in their water may have to wait up to 10 days to be cleared, he added.

“Based on the findings, the Navy will work with the Department of Health to revise public health guidelines and develop the way forward so that our families and others affected can return to normal life with a safe water source. and reliable,” said Converse. .

Converse said officials are working to determine the cause of the contamination.

November 22, the WWII-era Red Hill accidentally released 14,000 gallons of fuel and water from a fire suppression system drain line, according to the Associated Press.

Navy officials said the system leaked the mixture into a tunnel, but after it shut down, the navy removed the liquid and placed it in an aboveground storage tank.

At the time, Navy officials said there were no signs the fuel had leaked into the environment and “drinking water was safe.”

“As we move closer to accountability measures, we have an active investigation which encompasses recent events at the Red Hill compound, including the November leak, and it is going to be expanded to include the investigation into this incident. and determine the root cause to be taken in the short term and corrective actions in the long term,” Converse said.

At a hearing in Washington, DC, Thursday before the Navy’s announcement, Rep. Kai Kahele, D-Hawaii, held up a bottle of contaminated water, saying military families “need answers” about the situation and calling it “a crisis of astronomical proportions.”

Kahele visited the affected neighborhoods earlier this week and took his own water samples.

“Almost 100,000 people are without water. Our military families, people are getting sick, animals are getting sick, and our military families need answers,” Kahele said. “What is happening on the ground in Hawaii is completely unacceptable.”

— Patricia Kime can be contacted at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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