Lawsuit: Red Hill families drank ‘antifreeze’ in fuel-contaminated water

Lawyers who are suing the U.S. government have amended their lawsuit to include the shocking revelation
Published: Mar. 20, 2023 at 3:38 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 21, 2023 at 5:18 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A lawsuit based on new Health Department revelations says drinking water contaminated in the Navy’s Red Hill spill in 2021 not only contained fuel, but a de-icing agent.

The Health Department stresses the “fuel system icing inhibitor” found in aviation fuel is not the same chemical as what’s in car antifreeze. Car antifreeze has ethylene glycol, which is more and differently toxic than fuel system icing inhibitor, which contains diethylene glycol monomethyl ether.

Lawyers who are suing the U.S. government have amended their lawsuit to include the new information ― included in an internal state Health Department memo made public Monday.

In November 2021, thousands of people were sickened after drinking the Navy’s fuel-tainted tap water in and around Pearl Harbor. And in the years to follow, many say they continue to experience symptoms.

The fuel came from leaks at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility ― just 100 feet above Oahu’s aquifer.

WATCH: CDC director joins HNN Sunrise to discuss Red Hill water crisis

Last month, an internal state Health Department memo warned about a de-icing agent in the jet fuel.

“Fuel system icing inhibitor” is used in aviation fuels to prevent ice from forming and the letter warns that it “could pose the most significant health risk from exposure to contaminated water.”

On Monday afternoon, the Health Department told HNN that soon after the 2021 spill, the Navy confirmed that its Red Hill jet fuel contained the de-icing agent.


DOH said car antifreeze is more toxic than what was confirmed to be in the Pearl Harbor water.

“Car antifreeze has ethylene glycol, which is more and differently toxic than the Fuel System Icing Inhibitor, which contains diethylene glycol monomethyl ether,” the Health Department said, in the statement.

The statement continued:

“A high level of FSII was reported for a water sample collected by the Navy on December 21, 2021, in the vicinity of the Red Hill Shaft. The high solubility of FSII suggests that it could have been present in groundwater drawn into the JBPHH drinking water system at even higher concentrations and at levels that could have posed potential health risks, in addition to the jet fuel itself. DOH alerted the Navy as well as the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) about concern over additives in the fuel shortly after the November 2021 release.”

Navy Region Hawaii, meanwhile, released a statement saying there was no chemical from antifreeze in its drinking water samples:

“The Navy has collected quarterly sampling for all additives in JP-5, including diethylene glycol monomethyl ether, also known as 2-(2 methoxyethoxy)-ethanol), since 2016. All results for 2-(2 methoxyethoxy)-ethanol) have been non-detect, including the sample collected from the Red Hill Shaft on December 21, 2021. These sample results are posted in the Red Hill Quarterly Release Report on the EPA website.”

The Navy said it was not aware of the memorandum from DOH.

A month into the crisis in 2021, Hawaii News Now asked the Navy if those de-icing chemicals were in its fuel and the Navy wouldn’t say.

Following news of the DOH memo, an attorney suing the U.S. government amended the lawsuit saying it failed to warn residents.

“That means when that jet fuel leaked out, that antifreeze leaked out, too, and all sorts of other chemicals,” said attorney Kristina Baehr.

Meanwhile, CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky told Hawaii News Now on Monday that it has been doing what the federal agency calls “an assessment of chemical exposure” in the wake of the Red Hill crisis.


“People had increased rates of neurologic challenges, headaches, gastrointestinal challenges, skin,” said Walensky, who is in Honolulu for an official visit.

The U.S. Department of Defense invited a CDC team of 11 toxicology and epidemiology experts to look at military medical records and find potential long-term impacts.

“Our initial assessment was of 1000s of people and so we’re following up in those activities,” Walensky said.

Army Maj. Amanda Feindt says she’s been talking to federal and state health officials in her own search for answers about her and her family’s mystery chronic illnesses.

“This was not the initial outcome that they saw. They also believed symptoms were fleeting,” she said.

“There’s not a lot of research and I continue to say, we are the evidence and we are your research and we are still waiting for you to test us and to include us in in the conversation.”

Former Pearl Harbor resident, Katherine McClanahan moved to the mainland and said she continues to deal with tremors, muscle twitching and poor motor coordination.

“It’s sad that here we sit, being handed this information as if it’s irrelevant to our futures and our medical care,” said McClanahan. “And I want to know, when they knew this.”

The CDC director said they have been invited back to Hawaii in May to look at some of the medical records and the charts to see whether there been long term impacts associated with with Red Hill.