Former Navy diver describes Red Hill contamination: ‘We were up against a huge problem’
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As the military tries to figure how to safely drain the Red Hill fuel tanks, a retired Navy diver who saw the contamination up close is speaking out.
He describes the divers being covered in fuel in a water well, and he worries about the long-term health impacts from that operation.
Senior Chief Master Diver Brian Simic, 40, led a team of seven Navy divers in late December and early January. They used white absorbent bags and skimmers to try and contain the contamination.
“We are using that skimmer to suck just the surface, the very top of the water where the contamination was suspected to be the most,” Simic said. “You can smell the fuel. Once you enter the well itself, the conditions are very poor for breathing.”
Simic says it was clear their efforts were outmatched by the massive spill.
“We were up against a huge problem,” he added. “We didn’t have the capabilities to really make any lasting improvement on the well,” he added.
The divers who went in had dry suits and breathing apparatus while those directing them, like Simic, only wore their uniforms.
“Your clothes were completely saturated in fuel,” he said.
He says the chemical vapors irritated his eyes. Five months, later he still takes medication for dry eyes and he worries about long-term health impacts.
“It was mostly my eyes that were affected and irritated. That would last pretty much the entire time you were there and for several hours after you came out,” said Simic.
Meanwhile, Navy officials say reported health problems tied to the water contamination have slowed.
“We have not seen any medical encounters (virtual or in person appointments) in the last month related to water concerns,” said Lydia Robertson, public affairs officer, Navy Region Hawaii, in an email.
The Navy also said between March 18, which all zones were declared safe by the state health department, and mid-May, there were about 10 medical encounters for documentation only.
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In early December, Brian’s wife Jamie spoke about her family’s illnesses from drinking the tainted water.
“How long have I been poisoning myself and the kids,” she said.
Days later, she spoke out again from her hospital bed at Tripler Army Medical Center.
“To see the fuel contamination for myself with my wife as sick as she was, that was hard,” said Brian Simic.
After 20 years of service, Simic had enough and retired from the Navy. The family now lives in Florida.
As the state and military focus on draining the Red Hill fuel tanks, Simic wants to makes sure sickened families are not forgotten.
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