Contamination of Oahu’s military water is a health, environmental and confidence crisis


HONOLULU (KHON2) – As water contamination continues for thousands of military residents on Oahu, crowds of families, agencies and advocates are outraged by the US Navy’s response.

Some call it the biggest military housing problem to date with reports of suggested solutions so far making things even more unbearable in their homes; Add to that a broken confidence just before the Red Hill fuel storage crisis, which has not been ruled out to be linked to contaminated water.

Receive news wherever you are with KHON 2GO, KHON’s morning podcast, every morning at 8 a.m.

As the oil-contaminated water crisis stretches into its fourth day, it has become what some are calling an unprecedented problem, even among the country’s vast military residential network which is home to hundreds of thousands of people in across the country – tens of thousands here in Hawaii.

“This for AFHA is the biggest, large-scale problem we have seen to date that has happened at the same time,” said Kate Needham of the Armed Forces Housing Advocates (AFHA) group.

After the United States Navy and Army attempted to intensify awareness in town halls on Tuesday evening, residents and advocates tell us their outrage only grew as their water problems and health concerns increased.

“At this point, over 650 residents have contacted individually – that’s fair to me, it doesn’t include all the other advocates in our organization – showing pictures of health issues they are experiencing such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, bloody stools, their pets are sick, rashes, ”Needham said. “And a child was taken in an ambulance because she was having seizures.”

The family of this child wishes to remain anonymous.

The Navy has told families to flush their systems – but it has created more problems for many.

“I have not received any reports at this time that flushing the system will result in fresh water being released from their system afterwards,” Needham added. “What I have received reports is that when they flush the system it creates such a toxic odor that it gives people headaches and makes them nauseous.”

With oil now checked in the water, advocates are furious that the problem was initially minimized as the Navy continued to say the water was safe for days.

“Something is making people sick. There’s no way people at this level and this magnitude are making it up. These are not families that are histrionic or hysterical. It really does happen. We told people not to drink the water, not to bathe in it the second we heard a single report about it. And I was repelled by some people in the military community who contacted me and said, ‘Well, where do you get your information that you have the right to tell people to stop. drink water ? And I said, ‘I have the right to tell people to stop drinking water because they tell me they are sick.’ “

Kate Needham with Armed Forces Housing Advocates

As for where the petroleum product came from, a US Navy spokesperson told KHON2 if there was any connection to their huge red hill fuel storage site which is above an aquifer: “The Red Hill (water) well was secured on Sunday as a precaution. No odor was noted when our team went to inspect it. Red Hill Shaft is not the primary water supplier to the Navy’s water supply system.

They said the main sources are in Waiawa and Halawa. The Sierra Club of Hawaii, which is engaged in legal action with the Navy and the state over Red Hill’s fuel storage, explained that a link cannot be ruled out at this point.

“Red Hill is pretty much like the border,” said Wayne Tanaka of the Sierra Club of Hawaii, pointing to the aquifers on the map. “Halawa is a bit more mauka, as is Waiawa. The Halawa well is what serves all the residences, businesses, hospitals in this entire region, from Halawa to Moanalua to Hawaii Kai.

KHON2 asked: Could a leak from those large fuel tanks at Red Hill reach the aquifer or the water tanks at Halawa?

“It’s a huge concern,” Tanaka said. “This is one of the reasons we have been in conflict with the Navy over the past few years. I’m just trying to make them aware of the risk – existential risks – that this fuel installation poses to our drinking water supply. It is still not clear how and where the fuel is flowing, if there is a massive leak, how fast, and if it will actually migrate to the Halawa well, which would again be quite catastrophic.

“We all want to make sure this doesn’t become a harbinger of what could impact a much, much, much larger segment of the population here,” Tanaka added.

The Hawaii Department of Health (DOH) recently fined the Navy over $ 325,000 for environmental violations at Red Hill, and the Navy was also slow to reveal a fuel leak at Pearl Harbor from pipelines connected to Red Hill fuel tanks.

“Regarding this latest whistleblower report, the reopening of a disputed case hearing, the attorney for the Department of Health’s Environmental Health Administration said Navy officials had wrongly concealed information that should have been disclosed. Everything from the existence of additional pipes connected to the installation, the existence of through holes, the historical records of through holes in the tank – I mean, these are really serious things that really should have been disclosed during of our legal proceedings.

Wayne Tanaka of the Sierra Club of Hawaii

Find out what’s happening in the country on our national news page

At the time of this story airing at around 6 p.m., KHON2 was still awaiting a response from the Navy specific to the oil found in the DOH water test. We will continue to follow up.