Military: ‘Unprecedented’ number of medical complaints among those exposed to Red Hill fuel

Officials pointed out, however, that there is no link yet between exposure and long-term health impacts.
Published: Nov. 21, 2022 at 12:55 PM HST|Updated: Nov. 21, 2022 at 5:37 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Military officials pledged transparency and accountability as efforts to respond to the Red Hill disaster continue ― a year after fuel contaminated a water system that serves 93,000 customers.

On Monday, the commander of the Joint Task Force Red Hill told reporters that he understands that trust from the community must be earned. “This last year has been extremely difficult for military families and the people of Hawaii,” said Navy Rear Adm. John Wade. “We all have to work together as a team.”

“I acknowledge their anger, disappointment, frustration, and mistrust,” he added.

While the Navy’s water is now deemed safe to drink by state health regulators and the Navy, military leaders described other problems.

Continuing Coverage: Navy Water Crisis

“One of our biggest battles right now is the battle against misinformation,” said Dr. Jennifer Espiritu, chief of public health at Tripler Army Medical Center.

She says her own children went to a public school that was impacted by the tainted water.

Medical leaders say there’s no evidence so far of long term-illnesses from drinking the water that was contaminated with jet fuel, but added a simple test can’t diagnose a direct link.

Espiritu also says she’s battling medical “misinformation” and that illnesses like cancer take decades to show up.

“I’ve been posed with the question why can’t I perform an examination or a test on someone that tells me why they are having their symptoms and whether it’s related to the jet fuel exposure that happened a year ago,” Espiritu said.

“There is not a magic test that does that and I don’t know why there is a perception that there is.”

Early in the crisis, military medical teams saw 6,000 people for illnesses. Now military officials say an unspecified and “unprecedented number” of patients are complaining of skin, gastrointestinal, respiratory, and neurological issues.

Military leaders acknowledge frustration over delays in medical care for service members and that concerns over a policy gap went up to the Department of Defense.

“For civilians that are on the water distribution system and reservists that they can’t get medical care,” said Wade.

The Defense Health Agency plans to open a local clinic for patients with potential jet fuel exposures.

“People are absolutely having health care problems. That I believe. People deserve to be seen, that I believe with all my heart. Whether the two are connected, we can’t make that leap now,” said Espiritu.