HONOLULU (KHON2) — The University of Hawaii Red Hill Task Force said residents should be concerned as chemicals typically found in fuel have been identified in some Navy tap water samples, but scientists said more testing needs to be done.
Craig Nelson, a member of the task force said the positive results they’ve found in some of the tap water screenings are concerning.
“The vast majority of the samples we’ve collected are negative, they’re blank. They have nothing in them,” Nelson explained. “So when we get a positive detect, absolutely, if I had it in my house, I would be pushing for a proper test. And I would not drink the water until then. “
The task force formed in December of 2021 in response to the Red Hill water crisis after thousands of gallons of jet fuel spilled contaminating the drinking water, impacting more than 90,000 residents. The task force has been testing samples of tap water since February using a fluorescence spectroscopy method.
They created an online dashboard with the data to help the public understand the quality of their tap water and track the results over time
The dark red dots on the graph and chart of results indicate positive results–meaning fuel was possibly detected.
Nelson said those results were only found in water samples taken from Navy or Red Hill water sources.
UH Manoa Water Resources Research Center Director Thomas Giambelluca said even though the Navy and Board of Water Supply were already conducting tests, they wanted to do their own.
“One of the motivations for doing this additional kind of analysis, which is a screening, not not a quantitative testing, is to be able to get answers more quickly,” Giambelluca said.
According to Nelson, it’s only a preliminary type of test and the results are not definitive for JP-5 or jet fuel.
“We can infer based on the spectral characteristics, that it might be JP five, and that’s why we screen it. And so it requires further testing. But we can’t differentiate exactly whether we have only JP-5 in the sample,” said Nelson.
Nelson said homes with positive results have been notified. Those people are advised to do additional EPA certified tests to find out exactly what’s in the water.
Katie Arita-Chang, Department of Health Acting Communications director said, “The fluorescence screening method used by the University of Hawaiʻi is not specific for petroleum products; it may detect other organic materials.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Navy said, “EPA, DOH and the Navy formed an interagency drinking water team that determined that the water was safe to drink on March 18, 2022. Since then, the water has been constantly monitored by the Navy and regulators, and the water has been and is consistently safe to drink.”
The task force receives funding from multiple sources including the Department of Defense through the Office of Naval Research, but Giambelluca said that does not affect their research.
“Unequivocally, yes, we are maintaining independence, that’s mandatory for us,” Giambelluca said. “We cannot give up our academic independence, academic freedom.”
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Click here to go to the Red Hill Task Force tap water screening dashboard.