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‘You failed the community’: Residents question military’s response to tainted water

Hours after the state announced Wednesday that tests had found petroleum product in water from the Navy system, members of the military community gathered at a
Published: Dec. 1, 2021 at 10:25 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 2, 2021 at 10:41 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hours after the state announced Wednesday that tests had found petroleum product in water from the Navy system, members of the military community gathered at a town hall to criticize officials over their handling of the tainted tap water they say has made them sick.

“I want to say how disgusted I am at how you have failed the community,” said military housing resident Christy Clifford, at the community meeting at Aliamanu Military Reservation’s chapel.

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Residents also said they could smell fuel coming from their taps.

“My house began to smell like a gas station and I couldn’t breathe. I was choking,” said resident Bonnie Russell. “I opened all the windows for the ventilation but it still took quite a while for the fumes to clear.”

Many were critical of the military for not being more forthcoming.

“There’s been so much misinformation, no information, nothing given to the residents here,” said Clifford. “I have called since Sunday.”

In response to the concerns, the military tried to reassure residents — and promised to do better.

“We are working to get everyone working toward the same goals, and that is to take care of our people,” said Rear Adm. Blake Converse, the deputy commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

While the cause of the problems remains under investigation, there’s intense scrutiny of the Navy’s underground Red Hill Fuel Storage Facility, which has had a number of leaks in the past.

The Navy’s Pearl Harbor-Hickam water system draws from aquifers in Waiawa, Halawa and Red Hill.

So far, the contamination has only been detected in the Navy’s water system. But Honolulu Board of Water Supply officials worry the problem could spread.

The water sample that showed petroleum contamination came from a kitchen sink at Red Hill Elementary School, the state Health Department said. Officials cautioned that the results were not final.

“It’s preliminary results,” said state Deputy Director for Environmental Health Kathleen Ho. “It was just the petroleum-like substance that was in the water. There isn’t a quantifiable amount.”

Many residents have complained about getting sick from the water.

Some of the symptoms of petroleum-based hydrocarbon exposure include itching, rash, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness and headache.

“On Sunday my children took a bath, and for 45 minutes afterwards they complained of burning skin,” one woman told the military personnel. “On Monday, I woke up sick, and I’ve been dizzy ever since.”

There’s also a risk of pneumonitis, which has similar symptoms to pneumonia but is not contagious.

Officials said all levels of the military are aware of the problem. However, the Navy said it wasn’t ready to say exactly what is in the water.

Military officials said they are expecting their own test results to come in sometime Thursday.

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