Dec 11, 2021 - Health

Navy's polluted water forces Pearl Harbor families from homes

Tunnel inside the underground Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Tunnel inside the underground Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Photo: U.S. Navy via AP

At Red Hill — a Navy fuel storage facility near Pearl Harbor, Hawaii — samples of drinking water bound for military families contained diesel fuel 350 times the safe level, the state announced Friday.

Why it matters: The Navy has been denying complaints by military families and other residents for weeks.  

The latest: The Navy told state lawmakers that contaminated tap water came from a jet-fuel spill last month and wasn't caused by a leak from aging underground fuel storage tanks above an aquifer, AP reports.

  • Operations at Red Hill are on hold until the U.S. Pacific Fleet finishes its investigation into how petroleum got into the Navy's water system, Navy Times reports.
  • The Red Hill facility was shut down Nov. 28 after residents said their water smelled like fuel, but it wasn't until Dec. 3 that tested water samples showed the presence of petroleum products.

What's happening: The crisis has forced some Army and Navy families from their homes into hotels. They could be out until Christmas or longer, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports:

  • "A Navy official says he’s optimistic that displaced families will be back in their homes and able to safely use the water supply by Christmas, but that message runs counter to the more cautious tone struck by an Army commander who says recovery from the crisis is uncertain and could take weeks."
  • Residents said they've experienced cramps, rashes, vomiting, headaches and more after drinking the water, per the Navy Times.
  • The Navy's water system serves nearly 93,000 people in and near Pearl Harbor and almost 1,000 military households complained about the tap water.

The state said Navy water-system users, including military housing and schools on the Pearl Harbor base — shouldn't drink the water.

Go deeper