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Contamination has only been detected in Navy’s system, but officials worry it could spread

The head of the Honolulu Board of Water Supply says the Navy shutting down its well could cause any contaminants underground to seep toward the city wells.
Published: Dec. 2, 2021 at 11:14 AM HST|Updated: Dec. 2, 2021 at 11:15 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Petroleum contamination has so far only been detected in the Navy’s water system, but Honolulu Board of Water Supply officials are worried the problem could spread.

That’s because the underground water source that feeds the Navy’s well in Red Hill can also flow toward the Board of Water Supply’s wells in Halawa.

And when the Navy shut down its well on Sunday, the water board said it made it easier for potential contaminants underground to seep toward the city wells.

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“That is not a good scenario,” said Ernest Lau, the Board of Water Supply’s chief engineer.

“If we keep pumping at a higher rate at the Halawa shaft and Red Hill is not pumping, if there’s any fuel in the ground water and it’s moving as a plume then we are going to potentially suck that fuel towards us at a faster rate,”

To prevent that, the water board cut by half what it pumps from those wells and is increasing testing.

A Navy spokeswoman had no immediate response to that concern.

On Wednesday, a Hawaii lab detected a petroleum product in a water sample collected from the Pearl Harbor-Hickam system.

It was the first confirmation of what military households and other impacted residents have been reporting for days: That their water smells like fuel and has made them sick.

But the results also raise more questions, including how much petroleum is present and what kind it is.

State Environmental Health Deputy Director Kathleen Ho stressed the results are preliminary and that further testing is needed. More refined tests are being conducted at a lab in California.

Ho said the sample with petroleum was collected from Red Hill Elementary School.

Meanwhile, the roughly 93,000 customers of the Navy water system are continuing to be advised not to drink the water. Those who smell fuel should not use it for bathing or other household uses.

In addition to military households, several public schools and businesses are served by the system.

This story will be updated.

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