Petroleum-like substance found in water at Red Hill Elementary; Navy sets up clean water distribution locations

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HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Hawaii State Department of Health (DOH) announced Wednesday, Dec. 1, that a petroleum-like substance was found in the water at Red Hill Elementary School.

These samples were collected from the school Tuesday and analyzed at a University of Hawaii lab, but are considered preliminary. Officials are waiting for further results from samples sent to Eurofins Scientific in California for further analysis.

Additionally, on Thursday, Dec. 2. the Navy hosted another town hall meeting virtual on their Joint Base Pearl Habor Hickam Facebook page. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss the ongoing water issue and provide updated information.

The Navy confirmed that they detected petroleum products in the Red Hill Well, which has been isolated since Sunday. All tests throughout the rest of the Navy water distributions systems came back negative.

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Petroleum-like substance detected in water

Kathleen Ho, the DOH Deputy Director of Health, said the water samples were collected at the elementary school after an inspector noticed a fuel-like smell in the water.

“The lab detected petroleum product and these are preliminary results, and we’re not exactly sure yet what type of petroleum it is,” Ho explained.

It is unknown the extent of whether residents or other facilities are also affected. The DOH reported that there were over 175 complaints about the water having a fuel-like odor, but they remain limited to those who use the Navy water system.

McKenzie Probert is a resident at the Aliamanu Military Reservation. She is pregnant and has experienced headaches in the last couple of days. She said her three-year-old son has also shown signs of illness, such as rashes, vomiting and lethargy. Probert believes these symptoms are associated with the strong fuel-like smell coming from the water in their house.

“I think of my baby, and I just, it angers me. I am high risk pregnant. I’m 18 weeks. He felt like he was in an oven, he was so warm and it was awful, he wouldn’t sleep.”

McKenzie Probert, a resident at the Aliamanu Military Reservation

State Toxicologist Diana Felton said they have gotten reports from residents who have reported similar symptoms.

“The main complaints that are consistent with hydrocarbon exposure that you would get from drinking in the water or having it on your skin like showering include things like itching or irritated rash, rashes on your skin, gastrointestinal upset,” Felton stated.

The DOH recommends that all Navy water system users and those who detect a fuel-like odor in their water should avoid using it for drinking, cooking, oral hygiene, bathing, dishwashing and laundry. This recommendation will remain in place until water sample results from the mainland have been received and analyzed.

DOH investigators and the Navy will both continue to collect and test water samples, as well as investigate and inspect water distribution systems.

Town hall meeting with Military officials and residents affected by water issues

Watch the video below for input and questions from military housing residents during the town hall meeting:

Military officials also held another town hall meeting Wednesday night at the Aliamanu Military Reservation to discuss the ongoing water issues and answer questions from the community.

At the meeting, the military said they are still not sure if the 14,000-gallon fuel leak at Red Hill is related to these water contamination issues. They also said test results of water samples sent to the mainland are expected on Thursday, Dec. 2.

Navy offering clean water to affected residents at several locations on Oahu

KHON2 asked Reynaldo Torres, a resident of Halsey Terrace who was told not to use the water, if he could smell the fuel-like odor.

“I did hardcore. But nobody came to my house, and I’ve been calling but I haven’t heard anything about anybody coming to my residence to check at all… I got my wife and kids at home. We can’t shower. I gotta go to a gym to take a shower. I go to work, come here to get water and running around trying to get water, and I don’t have any way to cook dinner. So, we’ve been eating off paper plates and plastic ware.”

Reynaldo Torres, a resident of Halsey Terrace

The Navy has established portable water trucks and has distributed water at several locations in impacted communities. All the water being distributed at these trucks is from a clean and separate source from the water being tested. Those who would like to get water must have a valid military ID and verification of address.

Here is a list of locations providing clean water to military families affected:

  • Halsey Terrace Community Center — which will support Doris Miller, Halsey Terrace and Radford
  • NEX parking lot — Moanalua Terrace 
  • Catlin Park Community Center
  • Ohana Nui — Hickam Makai Rec Center located next to Tradewinds
  • AMR Housing — multiple locations

For more information on where those affected can go for clean water distribution, shower availability and report additional problems, click here.

State lawmakers respond, provide a statement about ongoing military housing water issues

Although the Navy has provided some updates to the public, State lawmakers said they have been left in the dark.

“Assurances mean very little if people can see that there is a problem for themselves, and I think in this case you don’t need to be a hydrologist or an engineer to recognize that there’s a problem.”

Rep. Aaron Ling Johanson (D) District 31.

State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim said legislators were not notified about the Navy’s town hall meetings on Tuesday, Nov. 30, and it has been another day with unanswered questions.

“When did they actually find out,” said Sen. Donna Mercado Kim (D) District 14. “I know they got complaints and calls, but is that how their process works, that they only work on complaints and calls? Are they supposed to be monitoring this?”

The Board of Water Supply announced it will increase testing, but Sen. Mercado Kim said that still is not enough with the situation at hand.

“I don’t think we should wait to see if we can smell or taste or have any of those signs. I think that we need to be proactive. The Board of Water Supply did send a release saying they’re going to change the testing from quarterly to monthly, but even monthly, I think at this point it needs to be weekly or daily,” added Sen. Mercado Kim.

“If there could be a possible contamination of the Halawa shaft, which supplies around 20% of the drinking water to the Honolulu metropolitan area — so that’s not just the Halawa, Pearl Harbor and Kalihi, but that’s all of Honolulu,” said Rep. Sonny Ganaden (D) District 30. “If they find carcinogens or petrochemicals in that shaft, then the Board of Water Supply for the county will shut down that shaft and we’ll be dealing with water shortages.”

Lawmakers said Hawaii’s congressional delegation is in contact with the State about their next line of action and State lawmakers are working to get more answers.

“We got approval from the Senate president to hold a special meeting via the Military Affairs Committee, Sen. Nishihara’s Committee. So we’re going to hold that next Friday between 10 and 12. So, we hope to have the Navy, board of health, possibly even the Border of Water Supply there to answer questions,” said Sen. Mercado Kim.

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In a statement from State and County Legislators:

“Today’s Department of Health announcement on the results of the water quality tests showing water
contamination in military housing in our area is totally unacceptable. We are extremely concerned that
residents who rely on the U.S. Navy’s water system are reporting associated health issues as well as
property loss. Not enough is being done by the Navy to address this situation. We urge the Navy to
significantly increase the aid and resources it is providing to affected families including greater amounts
of potable water, increased transportation resources to accessible hygiene facilities, support for impacted
area schools, facilitating insurance claims for damaged property, and most importantly, ensuring
healthcare services and treatment options for affected health individuals and families. The increasing
frequency of Red Hill-related fuel leaks and associated adverse community impacts demand immediate
attention and action by the Navy and a clear change of course.

We strongly urge the Navy to provide a full report on their next steps, as well as regularly apprising the
public of any further test results of the associated area water delivery systems, Red Hill aquifer, and any
other Red Hill-affiliated issues. We urge the Navy to be much more transparent and forthcoming in its
communications with our constituents and the public on this and all Red Hill-associated developments
and updates.”

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