BWS: Navy detected ‘forever chemicals’ at least twice in drinking water at Pearl Harbor base

Public health officials are demanding answers as to why the public wasn't informed earlier.
Published: Dec. 12, 2022 at 5:41 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 12, 2022 at 6:00 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Honolulu Board of Water Supply officials want answers about toxic chemicals detected in groundwater at Red Hill a year before last month’s spill of firefighting foam.

The chemicals were also found in drinking water at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in 2020 and 2021.

As first reported by Hawaii News Now, the EPA and state Health Department said in a letter last month to the Navy that PFAS ― known as forever chemicals ― were detected in groundwater samples on Dec. 20 and 27, 2021.

That was one month after fuel spills tainted the Pearl Harbor drinking water system, sickening thousands of people. And it was a year before 1,300 gallons of firefighting foam containing PFAS was spilled at Red Hill.

EPA, DOH letter reveals ‘forever chemicals’ were detected in groundwater near Red Hill last year

Families demand transparency, answers after Red Hill groundwater samples detect ‘forever chemicals’

“It seems to indicate there is more positive tests for PFAS in the Navy’s drinking water source at Red Hill shaft going back to December of 2021,” said Ernie Lau, Board of Water Supply manager and chief manager.

He says Navy water quality reports for the Pearl Harbor base showed low detections in the drinking water.

“In the years 2021 and 2020, there were also detections of PFAS in their drinking water system. One of them was identified as coming from their Aiea-Halawa shaft,” said Lau.

“So it looks like the presence of PFAS was not unique to last year’s event,” he added.

SPECIAL SECTION: Navy Water Crisis

In the letter, the EPA and Health Department said the groundwater detections were “at low parts per trillion concentrations that are below Hawaii State Environmental Action Levels but above EPA’s interim health advisory levels.” Forever chemicals have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, even at low levels.

Regulators said more monitoring and testing are needed.

“As we know, PFAS is a moving target in regards to where we are on the health advisory level, which we lowered about a thousand-fold in June,” said Corine Li, manager of the EPA’s Drinking Water Office.

“It’s a significant shift in terms of what’s being detected and reported,” she added.

Army Maj. Amanda Feindt, a former Pearl Harbor resident who was sickened after last year’s fuel spills at Red Hill, said at a public meeting Monday that she was appalled at the latest monitoring results.

“I’d like to state for the record that I do not appreciate you, DOH or EPA using my children as your test dummies or your guinea pigs,” she said.

Hawaii News Now reached out to the Navy for a response and is still waiting to hear back.