Navy seeks to contest Hawaii health officials’ order to halt operations at fuel site linked to contaminated tap water 💥💥💥

The Navy requested a continuance of the order and is negotiating terms with state health officials, Department of Health spokesperson Katie Arita-Chang said.

The order to halt operations at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility was issued Monday amid a tainted water crisis that has forced more than 700 people from their homes and sickened families.
The Red Hill fuel facility sits 100 feet above the Red Hill aquifer — which supplies drinking water to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and other areas of Hawaii.

Testing revealed petroleum hydrocarbons and vapors in the water, the Navy said Friday.

On Sunday, US Pacific Fleet Deputy Commander Rear Adm. Blake Converse confirmed a petroleum leak was the cause.

‘You have failed the community’

The Navy said it shut down its Red Hill water well on November 28 after families living on base reported symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches and skin-related concerns.

“My house began to smell like a gas station and I couldn’t breathe. I was choking,” resident Bonnie Russell told CNN affiliate KGMB/KHNL. “I opened all the windows for the ventilation but it still took quite a while for the fumes to clear.”

The military has offered alternative housing for all service members and civilian employees living near the base. As of Sunday, Converse said the military was covering hotel room costs for more than 700 people.

“I also want to say how disgusted I am at how you have failed the community,” military housing resident Christy Clifford told officials at a town hall meeting last week, KGMB/KHNL reported.

“On Sunday my children took a bath and for 45 minutes afterward they complained of burning skin. On Monday I woke up sick and have been dizzy ever since,” one woman told the military personnel, according to KGMB/KHNL.

During a separate town hall with Navy officials Sunday, residents described an array of symptoms.

“I’m here to ask why you weren’t a wingman to protect my 13-month-old son when I was bathing him, when I was giving him a sippy cup full of water from my faucet, when he has been throwing up for days on end,” said one woman, who didn’t give her name.

“I’m here to ask why you weren’t my wingman as my husband and I have had mysterious serious symptoms such as sore throats, burning in my stomach, profuse, unusual sweating, headaches unable to be mitigated, requiring multiple ER visits for additional medications, vomiting, diarrhea, skin irritation,” the woman asked the Navy officials.

Attendees seeking more transparency from the Navy also aired their frustration at finding temporary housing and asked for information on the environmental impact of flushing the contaminated water from pipes.

On Monday, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro visited the fuel storage facility and said the Navy is getting closer to determining the root cause of the water contamination.

“There is an ongoing investigation that is led by US Pacific Fleet into the cause of the incident,” Del Toro said.

“Once that investigation is complete, we will review those findings and adjust our operating procedures as necessary.”

But the top priority is to take care of those affected by the water contamination, Chief of Naval Operations Michael Gilday said.

“That includes medical care. That includes food and includes water,” Gilday said Monday.

The Navy hopes to restore water service to residents soon, but “the key point here is that getting it right is more important than doing it fast,” Gilday said.

State demanding swift action

State health officials want more than just a halt in operations at the fuel storage facility. According to Gov. David Ige, the health department’s order also calls for the Navy to:
  • Install a drinking water treatment system at the Red Hill well, which was shut down November 28 after residents reported symptoms
  • Submit a work plan to assess system integrity
  • Defuel the Red Hill underground storage tanks within 30 days of corrective action
“Hawai’i’s wellbeing and the safety of our residents, including military families, must come first. We cannot have national security without ensuring public health and safety,” the governor tweeted.

“There are still important questions that need to be answered and the Order will help get there.”

The Honolulu Board of Water Supply is encouraging the Navy to remove fuel from the Red Hill storage facility, BWS manager and chief engineer Ernest Lau told CNN.

Lau suspended operation of the Halawa Shaft on Thursday. The shaft is Oahu’s largest water source serving Honolulu residents and pulls from the same aquifer as the Navy’s Red Hill well.

Lau said he won’t resume operation at Halawa until the fuel is removed from Red Hill.

Honolulu is now relying on its other wells to maintain water service to its customers, which Lau said isn’t posing a huge problem during the current wet season. But the system could become strained during the summer months.

CNN’s Jenn Selva, Jack Hannah and Kelly McCleary contributed to this report.

Navy seeks to contest Hawaii health officials’ order to halt operations at fuel site linked to contaminated tap water

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