After worrisome findings, UH task force calls for more testing of Navy tap water

The Navy, state health department and EPA say the Navy water is safe to drink.
Published: Aug. 5, 2022 at 5:44 PM HST|Updated: Aug. 5, 2022 at 6:04 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - University of Hawaii scientists are finally talking about their data ― showing what appears to be jet fuel still in the Navy’s tap water ― and are calling for more tests.

They also say it might be “prudent” not to drink the tap water until further results are returned.

The UH findings are being posted on a dashboard at

Since March, the scientists found:

  • Seven positive detections of fuel at Hickam;
  • Two at Ford Island;
  • Two at Pearl City Peninsula;
  • and two at the Red Hill Mauka neighborhood closest to the Red Hill fuel tanks.

The UH Red Hill Task Force is made up 80 scientists and experts.

They used a rapid screening method called fluorescence spectroscopy and found detections consistent with JP-5 or jet fuel in a small percentage of Navy tap water samples.

The data, however, is not definitive.

“Just because we have a positive detect on our screening does not mean there’s jet fuel in the water for sure,” said Craig Nelson, of the UH Red Hill Task Force.

“When we get a positive detect, absolutely if I had it in my house, I would be pushing for a proper test and I would not drink the water until then,” he added.

The scientists say the levels are below EPA action levels and their methods are not EPA-certified.

“I think it’s incumbent upon people if they’ve had a detect in their tap water to go out and get further testing,” said Tom Giambelluca, director of the UH Manoa Water Resources Research Center.

“In the meantime, it’s probably prudent not to drink the water.”

Donn Viviani, also of the task force, said “there is something going on.”

“I speak to people who are not showering in the water,” he added.

The Navy, state Health Department and EPA say the Navy water is safe to drink.

“EPA, DOH and the Navy formed an interagency drinking water team that determined that the water was safe to drink on March 18, 2022,” Navy Region Hawaii said, in a statement.

“There have been no detections of JP-5 contamination in the system,” it added.

The Department of Health adds fluorescence “can be caused by a variety of substances, including biofilms common found in household plumbing.”

“DOH does not use the fluorescence method for testing due to the same possibility of interference or false positives that UH identified,” the state said.

Attorney Kristina Baehr represents 150 families that have filed health claims against the Navy.

About a third still live in military housing.

“They are stuck in homes that aren’t safe so I have demanded of the Navy that they move people off the water line,” she said.

The Navy says residents should try to resolve housing issues with a community manager.

Meanwhile, the UH data showed no detections in the general public’s water system.

BWS chief engineer Ernie Lau told HNN he couldn’t comment on the UH data because he’s not familiar with the screening methods.

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