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DOH: Petroleum levels more than double safe limits found in Navy’s Aiea Halawa water shaft

The Hawaii Department of Health confirmed Wednesday night that a second Navy water well has been contaminated by fuel.
Published: Dec. 8, 2021 at 6:56 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 9, 2021 at 1:04 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Health Department reported Wednesday night that a second Navy water well tested positive for high levels of fuel contamination, prompting the Board of Water Supply to take additional precautions in a bid to protect the public water system.

The state said water samples taken from the Navy’s Aiea Halawa shaft on Sunday detected more than twice the safe limit of diesel fuel in the drinking water.

On Thursday morning, the Navy disputed the Health Department’s findings. They said the water samples were from an off-service section of the water distribution system.

“The Navy and Hawaii Department of Health are doing additional water sampling after a sample taken Dec. 5 from an off-service section of the Navy’s water distribution near Navy’s Aiea Halawa Well showed elevated results for total petroleum hydrocarbon,” the Navy said, in a news release.

“This sample did not come directly from the Navy’s Aiea-Halawa Well and the Navy does not believe it indicates contamination of the Navy’s Aiea Halawa Well.”

The Board of Water Supply, meanwhile, wasn’t convinced by the Navy’s explanation.

“If it’s not coming out of the shaft then where is it coming from?” said BWS Manager and Chief Engineer Ernest Lau, at a news conference Thursday.

“Folks, we cannot afford to repeat what the Navy’s customers are experiencing right now in the broader Honolulu community.”

If the Health Department’s conclusions hold, it means the contamination of the Navy’s water system is much more widespread than previously thought.

CONTINUING COVERAGE:

Navy officials had confirmed petroleum contamination in the Red Hill drinking water well last week.

Following the release of the state’s findings on Wednesday night, government leaders and environmentalists called again for more oversight of the Navy’s clean-up operations.

“I’m pretty depressed. This was all foreseeable,” said David Kimo Frankel, attorney for the Sierra Club.

“Navy officials have testified under oath that the tanks couldn’t leak and if they did leak it could no way reach drinking water and it has happened.”

The Navy has three wells that supply drinking water for military and civilian families, area businesses and seven public schools.

Last week, the Navy shut down its Red Hill well after hundreds complained about fuel smells and reported illnesses they believed were linked to the contaminated water.

The Red Hill well is located near the large Red Hill underground fuel storage facility, which has a history of leaks. The state has told the Navy to empty the tanks, but the Navy is fighting that oirder.

The state Health Department on Wednesday night said tests at the Navy’s Halawa Aiea well showed a level of 920 parts per billion of total petroleum contaminants.

That far exceeds DOH’s safety standards of 400 parts per billion.

DOH said the Navy water sample was taken on Sunday and the well has reportedly been offline since Friday. “The level of this contaminant poses a public health threat, and is considered unsafe to drink,” said Kathleen Ho, deputy director for Environmental Health.

“This news is concerning — especially as the cause of the petroleum release into the Navy’s water system remains unknown. We will continue to take all possible action to protect public health and the environment.”

Frankel added, “It is idiotic to be drinking water that has been contaminated with fuel. I don’t care how much it is. Our water was the purest and best water in the world and the Navy has ruined that.”

The Navy’s Halawa Aiea well is separate from the Board of Water Supply’s Halawa shaft, which is located approximately 1 1/2 miles northeast of the Navy’s water line.

As a precaution, the Honolulu Board of Water Supply shut down two of its own wells — the Aiea well along with the Halawa well, which together supply about 1.85 million gallons per day to the public.

The Board of Water Supply previously stopped using its Halawa shaft, which supplies about 20% of the drinking water to the urban core.

Tests are being conducted to see if there are any impacts to the public water system. The agency said results are expected late next week. “This situation is not acceptable and our system to our residents is now being put under more stress,” Lau said.

State Sen. Kurt Fevella, who represents Ewa Beach said state lawmakers should investigate how Navy officials mishandled the Red Hill contamination.

He added that a criminal investigation also may be warranted.

“I’m very angry — very, very angry,” he said. “Whoever had a part in this should be accountable for negligence and there definitely should be criminal prosecution.”

The Health Department continues to advise Navy water system users not to drink the water from their taps. They are also being urged not to use it for cooking or oral hygiene.

This includes consumption by pets and extends to users of the Navy’s Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam’s water system, including the Aliamanu Military Reservation, Red Hill and Nimitz elementary schools and military housing.

The entire scope of the problem is still unraveling as residents at a former military housing complex in Ewa Beach have also reported illnesses tied to water provided by the Navy.

Property managers at Kapilina Beach Homes were initially told by the Navy that their water lines were not impacted.

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