Navy: Investigation ongoing after early tests find no fuel in Pearl Harbor-Hickam water

People in military housing near Pearl Harbor say tainted water made them sick or break out in rashes
Published: Nov. 30, 2021 at 12:24 AM HST|Updated: Nov. 30, 2021 at 1:48 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Households who use the Pearl Harbor-Hickam water system are being urged not to drink or use the tap water amid concerns it might be contaminated.

The advisory came from the state Health Department on Monday night.

Earlier in the day, a growing number of military families reported serious problems with the water, which they say has a strong “fuel-like” odor. Several also say the water has made them sick.

The Navy says it has been inspecting equipment and flushing distribution lines, but it hasn’t yet found the source of the trouble. And early testing also hasn’t identified any issues.

“We are tracking all concerns about odor in the water when they are called in to our Information Line. Our teams are collecting samples and testing them,” the Navy said, through a spokesperson.

“We are providing updated information to residents of the housing communities, as well as to those who work on our bases. We are taking every concern seriously. To date ... we have not detected any fuel in the water. We continue to pursue more stringent testing and will keep our communities informed.”

Meanwhile, the state Health Department says it’s not only gotten complaints about the water from military housing near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam but Red Hill and Nimitz elementary schools.

Some people have reported diarrhea, vomiting, rashes and burning skin.

The Navy says the Pearl Harbor-Hickam water system draws from aquifers in Waiawa, Halawa and Red Hill. It’s unclear if possible contamination is connected to the Red Hill Fuel Storage Facility.

The underground fuel facility has had leaks in the past, including one earlier this month.

The Board of Water Supply said its systems are separate from the Navy, and so is not involved with the ongoing investigation. The agency, however, did say it would increase testing frequency of its own system in the area. The closest BWS water source to the Red Hill facility is the Halawa shaft.

Meanwhile, the Navy says it’s working to provide water to families.

Gov. David Ige said Tuesday that the state continues to work with the Navy to determine what happened. “We do know that clean fresh water is essential for our economy,” he said.

“We are concerned if there was some process that got fuel into our water supply, that certainly is unacceptable.”

Some military families started noticing problems days ago while others only noticed issues Monday. A number reported serious side effects, including vomiting, diarrhea and rashes.

Bonnie Russell, who lives in Catlin Park, said she woke up Monday morning to strong smell of gasoline. “It was really, really strong,” she said.

But Angela Straight, of Armed Forces Housing Advocates, said the problems at her home might date back to the weekend. “Last Sunday, I thought I was having an allergic reaction to something because I do have hay fever and allergies,” she said. “But when I went to the hospital, they checked me and they were like, well, what were you exposed to?”

While early tests are inconclusive, water samples have been sent to a lab in California and results are expected later this week.

That’s a long time for families who have already been waiting days for answers.

“I just feel like if the proper channels would have pushed out the information, we could have properly prepared ourselves for this instead of consuming contaminated water for the last seven to eight days,” said Straight.

Holy Family Catholic Academy sent their kids home Monday afternoon when they noticed the odor and have gone to remote learning.

“I thank the radio broadcast I heard the news report of,” said Principal Celeste Akiu of Holy Family Catholic Academy.

“Had I have not heard that I may not have received information until later into the morning, and by then, we would have been into P.E. classes for the kids and drink their water and refill their bottles.”

It’s also apparent that not every home in the area is impacted.

“Our water we haven’t experienced the scent or anything like that,” said Queue Kufalk, of Honolulu. “After Angela told me hey, stop drinking it and I received all these emails, I obviously stopped using it.”

The Armed Forces Housing Advocates bought nearly 200 cases of water to hand out Monday evening and is accepting donations to help get resources for families in need.

“The best that we could do on a moment’s notice to kind of see if we could get some relief to families and give them a sense of security as they brush their teeth tonight, bathe their kids,” said Frances Paulino, of the group.

“If it’s going to be a long-term thing, then I suppose there’s going to have to be some form of restitution or some form of alternate means of, you know, showering and doing laundry,” said Kufalk. This water is meant to help people on base get through the night.

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