Navy officials have confirmed that petroleum has contaminated a well serving the Navy water system in Hawaii — including housing areas for hundreds of military families who have reported smelling fuel and seeing oily film in their tap water.
Meanwhile, military family members stood in line Thursday afternoon at the Aliamanu Military Reservation Community Center, waiting to apply for a hotel room to get away from the contamination. The Aliamanu housing area, part of U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii, is one of the areas where families reported tainted water starting Sunday.
Army officials have arranged for hotel rooms for residents who want to leave their homes in the Aliamanu and Red Hill housing areas. Some families told Military Times they have experienced symptoms that include rashes, stomach problems, dizziness and sore throats in the week after the fuel odors began.
After residents began reporting fuel odors Sunday, the Navy conducted preliminary tests, which were negative for petroleum contaminants. Officials sent samples to a certified laboratory on the mainland for further testing. The test came back positive for petroleum products in the Red Hill well, which has been isolated since Sunday, said Rear Adm. Blake Converse, deputy commander of Pacific Fleet and commander of the crisis action team addressing the water issue, during a town hall meeting Thursday evening at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
“We have pretty conclusive indications that there are volatile petroleum products in the well. We determined that is the likely source of the contamination of our water distribution system across the Navy system,” Converse said.
All the other tests throughout the Navy’s water distribution system in Hawaii have come back negative, he said. Test results showed that the Waiawa well’s water quality remains safe for use. Earlier this week, the Hawaii Department of Health announced it had found petroleum products in a sample taken from Red Hill Elementary School, which gets its water from the Navy system. The majority of the children attending the school are military.
Now that the source of the petroleum has been identified and isolated, Converse said, the Navy is working to determine how the petroleum got into the well and to fix it. Officials are working to restore the potable water through flushing and testing, he said, so military families can return to homes with safe, reliable water.
Within Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, there are about 7,000 housing units for families of all the services. Of those, about 1,400 are in areas that have been affected by these water issues, said Chuck Anthony, spokesman for the joint base. About 600 residents of base housing had asked for testing as of Thursday.
The Navy is approaching alternate housing differently than the Army. Officials are working to provide a process for a temporary lodging allowance for those who want to seek hotel rooms, Converse said.
Medical facilities at the Makalapa Clinic and at Tripler Army Medical Center have staff specifically dedicated to help people with symptoms they believe are related to the water issues, and medical screening services have been brought to Aliamanu. Service members and families should report their issues to medical personnel so they can be documented in their medical records, officials said. Navy officials are also pursuing a comprehensive registry for medical purposes to document who is living in Hawaii during these water problems.
Army officials deployed the 25th Infantry Division to the community center Thursday afternoon to help residents of Aliamanu and Red Hill with water, housing logistics and medical screenings. Soldiers also went door to door to deliver water to residents.
The soldiers are bringing portable showers to Aliamanu, one spouse said, and they’re providing increased security to protect the homes of those who want to go to hotel rooms..
Army and Navy officials have been offering sites where residents can pick up potable water, but one spouse posted on Facebook that the Army deliveries were helpful as “driving around for water has been a full time job.”
The Navy isn’t planning to deliver water to each home, but if families have problems getting water, they can contact the Emergency Family Assistance Center for assistance.
Navy officials are working to make laundry services available and will provide increased security patrols in affected neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, they are working to determine whether there will be reductions in rent, reimbursement for out-of-pocket costs related to the water problems, and ways to help families who aren’t able to find accommodations that allow their pets.
A fuel and water spill occurred near the Red Hill facility sometime over the weekend of Nov. 20-21; residents began having symptoms the following weekend. Officials have had town hall meetings in various neighborhoods every night since Tuesday.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.