HONOLULU (KHON2) — It has been a year since the Navy’s water system was contaminated with fuel from a leak at the Red Hill fuel tank storage, but many families are still trying to process everything they have been through since the crisis began.
Former Aliamanu Military Reservation resident Diedre Willbanks said there is still an uncomfortable feeling when thinking about last year’s Thanksgiving celebration. The family celebrated with a feast at home, not knowing the water they were using to cook and drink was tainted.
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“We had Thanksgiving like normal, we had no idea,” Willbanks said. “We brined our turkey, you know, made all of our food like cranberry sauce, everything contained that water, drinking the water for God’s sake, we would just get it from the fridge because it’s filtered water. And then, we started having gastrointestinal issues.”
Willbanks and her family went on to spend Christmas and the next three months in a hotel room. She said it is hard to trust the Navy after all her family and thousands of others have experienced.
The Navy leadership marked the year since the crisis with an update. The Red Hill Joint Task Force Commander Rear Admiral John Wade said they are working to complete the defueling of the tanks prior to the June 2024 timeline.
“I am on record saying every day that the fuel sits above the aquifer is a risk to the people of Hawaii, our community, and the environment,” Wade said. “So within federal and state law, I intend to work with these regulators to look at first the repair enhancements and modification plan and say what can we do faster.”
The Hawaii Department of Health submitted comments earlier this month on the Navy’s repair plans and the DOH is awaiting their response.
DOH Deputy Director of Environmental Health Kathleen Ho, in a statement, said, “We’ve come so far as a state in getting the Navy and the Secretary of Defense to admit that the Red Hill facility needs to be shut down, but there’s obviously more work to be done. There is a continued threat every day that fuel remains in the Red Hill tanks, and we need the Department of Defense to feel the same sense of urgency that we do to shut down Red Hill and restore our aquifer.”
Adrianna Coberley is also a former AMR resident; she now lives in Washington state. She said this is already a more cheerful holiday season compared to last year but concerns remain that long-term health effects could come from consuming the fuel-contaminated water.
Coberley said, “They haven’t come out and said, like, these are the effects that you could have for health concerns or anything they… we’ve got really nothing.”
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The Navy said they commit not to store fuel at the Red Hill facility, and they expect to take the public’s input on the future use of the facility at some point next year.