As Navy works to help families affected by tainted water, timeline for clean-up still uncertain

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Published: Dec. 3, 2021 at 10:39 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 4, 2021 at 12:38 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In a virtual town hall meeting on Saturday, the Navy said it is providing resources to military families who have been affected by the tainted water system.

This comes as Navy officials announced that tests had detected petroleum in its Red Hill well. Those results prompted the Board of Water Supply to shut down its Halawa well as a precaution.

Officials said the the Navy and Army have set up facilities to provide medical care, counseling, legal guidance and alternative housing to those affected.

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The Navy said clean up efforts are underway as it has gotten the green light from the Health Department to conduct flushes to restore its contaminated water system. However, officials added that there’s no timeline for when the water will be safe to use again for drinking or cooking.

U.S. Pacific Fleet Deputy Commander Blake Converse said that after the flushes are conducted “we go through a series of tests and we’ll start pulling people back in and going through individual flushes of the houses and CDC guidelines in the schools.”

“To make sure we’ve done our due diligence in every one of those locations to ensure that there are no residual petroleum products.”

The Navy said it is also partnering with the Army Environmental Command. Officials said they are looking into the possibility of installing long-term monitoring systems to prevent this situation from happening in the future and to protect public safety and the water system.

In the meantime, the 93,000 customers on the Navy system are left trying to figure how to tackle their daily routine. They’ve been advised not to drink the water and not to use it at all if it smells like fuel.

In a town hall meeting that was held Friday night, many community members expressed frustration about the Navy’s response.

“How can I possibly trust anything you present to me and my family?” asked Cheri Burness, who lives in Halsey Terrace.

“Are we identifying why the Navy seems to be kind of following the Army?” a servicemember asked. “We’re not really proactive in this.”

Some families say they first reported the bad water more than a week ago.

Maj. Gen. Joseph Ryan, of the US Army Garrison, acknowledged Friday afternoon that they did not get the information about the tainted water right away.

“I’m ruthlessly trying to find out when those reports were made and who they went to, and why we didn’t find out about them because I need to fix that. That’s not good,” Ryan said.

Officials are working to help impacted families, including by using over 1,000 hotel rooms as a stopgap.

“We just started this process today with the call-in, so people are taken care and do not have to stand in line,” said Rear Admiral, Timothy J. Kott, commander of the Navy Region Hawaii.

“So just as I left this evening, approximately 600 people thus far, I do expect it to rise overnight.”

The Navy says there are 400 rooms available and will have more ready as those fill up.

Kott said temporary housing is available to those living in areas affected by the water or those who say they have symptoms.

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