Five sailors assigned to the aircraft carrier Nimitz have reported illnesses they believe stem from jet fuel that leaked into the carrier’s water system.
Jet fuel was first found in the Nimitz’s water system Sept. 16 during a pre-deployment cruise in the Pacific Ocean, prompting the carrier to initiate a targeted flushing of the ship’s potable water system on Sept. 17.
Navy officials confirmed Tuesday that traces of jet fuel were still being found in the carrier’s potable water system, after the flushing, but said then there were no “confirmed” cases of illness due to the contaminated water. In response to a Navy Times inquiry, the Navy elaborated on its initial response.
“To date, five Sailors have reported health concerns that may have been related to the water issue,” 3rd Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Sean Robertson said Thursday in an email to Navy Times. “These Sailors are being closely monitored by health officials. If we receive any additional reports of potentially contaminated water, we will immediately investigate and take appropriate action to safeguard the crew.”
Four of those sailors are “cleared,” while the fifth sailor is still suffering from acid reflux, according to a Navy investigation of the issue, which found the contamination originated from one of the potable water tanks aboard the ship.
“The source of the jet propellant-5 (JP-5) contamination has been identified and isolated to one of the 26 potable water tanks on board,” Robertson said. “The contaminated tank has been isolated from the potable water system. As an added precaution, three other nearby tanks have also been isolated from the potable water system.”
Robertson said Thursday the carrier continues to test its potable water system to “ensure the highest quality water is provided to the crew when the ship gets underway.”
In the meantime, the water available on board is safe for use because the carrier has received fresh water from the city’s water supply since Sept. 17, he said. Additionally, the ship is distributing free bottled water to sailors.
The contaminated water discovery forced the Nimitz to return to its homeport at Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, where it remains.
The carrier wrapped up its most recent deployment — which lasted 11 months — in February 2021. The ship subsequently completed a maintenance availability at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington.
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.