HONOLULU (KHON2) — As water contamination continues for thousands of military residents on Oahu, throngs of families, agencies and advocates are outraged with the response from the U.S. Navy.
Some are calling it the most significant military housing problem to date with reports of suggested solutions, so far, making things even more unbearable in their homes; add to that a broken trust just ahead of the crisis regarding Red Hill fuel storage, whose connection to the tainted water has not been ruled out.
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As the petroleum-contaminated water crisis stretches into its fourth day, it has grown into what some are calling an unprecedented problem, even among the nation’s extensive military residential network that houses hundreds of thousands nationwide — tens of thousands here in Hawaii.
“This for AFHA is the most significant and large-scale issue we’ve seen to date that’s happened all at one time,” said Kate Needham with the group Armed Forces Housing Advocates (AFHA).
After the U.S. Navy and Army tried to ramp up outreach at town halls Tuesday night, residents and advocates tell us their outrage only grew while their water problems and health worries mounted.
“I have had, at this point, over 650 residents reach out individually — that’s just to me, that doesn’t include all the other advocates in our organization — showing pictures of medical conditions they’re experiencing like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, bloody stool, their animals are sick, rashes,” Needham said. “And one child was taken away in an ambulance because she was having seizures.”
That child’s family wishes to remain anonymous.
The Navy told families to flush their systems — but that has led to more problems for many.
“I have not received any reports, currently, that flushing the system is causing freshwater to be coming out of their system subsequently,” Needham added. “What I have been getting reports is that when they’re flushing the system, it is creating such a toxic smell that it’s giving people headaches and making them nauseous.”
With petroleum now verified in the water, advocates are furious the problem was downplayed at the outset as the Navy continued to say the water was safe for days.
“Something’s making people sick. There’s no way people at this level and this magnitude are making this up. This isn’t families being histrionic or hysterical. This is really happening. We told people do not drink the water, do not bathe in it the second we heard a single report of this. And I got pushback from some people in the military community that contacted me and said,’ Well, where are you getting your information from that you have a right to tell people to stop drinking water?’ And I said, ‘I have a right to tell people to stop drinking water because they’re telling me they’re sick.’”Kate Needham with the group Armed Forces Housing Advocates
As to where the petroleum product came from, a U.S. Navy spokesperson told KHON2 this as to whether there is a connection with their massive red hill fuel storage site that sits above an aquifer: “The Red Hill (water) Shaft was secured Sunday out of an abundance of caution. There were no odors noted when our team went to inspect it. Red Hill Shaft is not the main supplier of water to the Navy’s water system.”
They said the main sources are in Waiawa and Halawa. The Sierra Club of Hawaii, which is locked in legal actions with the Navy and the state over the Red Hill fuel storage, explained a link cannot be ruled out at this point.
“Red Hill is pretty much like on the border,” explained Wayne Tanaka of the Sierra Club of Hawaii, pointing out aquifers on the map. “Halawa is a little bit more mauka as is Waiawa. The Halawa shaft is what serves all the residences, businesses, hospitals in this entire area from Halawa to Moanalua all the way to Hawaii Kai.”
KHON2 asked: Could a leak at those large Red Hill fuel tanks somehow get to the Halawa aquifer or tanks of water?
“That is a huge concern,” Tanaka said. “That is a reason why we’ve been locked horns with the Navy for the last several years. I’m just trying to get them to acknowledge the risk — existential risks — that this fuel facility poses to our drinking water supply. It’s still unclear how and where fuel flow, if there is a massive leak, how quickly and whether it will actually migrate toward the Halawa shaft, which again would be pretty catastrophic.”
“We all want to make sure that this doesn’t become a harbinger of things to come of what may be impacting a much, much, much broader segment of the population here,” Tanaka added.
The Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) recently fined the Navy more than $325,000 for environmental violations at Red Hill, and the Navy was also slow to reveal a fuel leak in Pearl Harbor from pipelines connected to the Red Hill fuel tanks.
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As of this story’s airing around 6 p.m., KHON2 was still awaiting a response from the Navy specific to the petroleum found in the DOH’s water test. We will continue to follow up.