Contaminated Pearl Harbor Waters Makes Military Families Sick


The first clue that something was wrong with Cheri Burness’s tap water came from her dog. He hasn’t had any for two weeks. Burness then began to get stomach discomfort. Her 12-year-old daughter felt sick to her stomach.

Price of Water Set To Rise

(Photo : Photo by Cate Gillon/Getty Images)

“Every day, it was growing worse,” Burness said.

Burness’ husband is a member of the United States Navy. Hundreds of military families living near Pearl Harbor have expressed similar concerns after the navy’s water supply was tainted by petroleum.

Plaguing the Navy Facility

Pearl Harbor

(Photo : Wikimedia Commons)

The issues have plagued one of the world’s most significant navy facilities, which houses submarines, ships, and the commander of US troops in the Indo-Pacific area, and they may even jeopardize one of Honolulu’s most critical aquifers and water supplies.

This week, residents in navy housing began to complain of a fuel-like stench emanating from their tap water. Some others, like Burness, complained of stomach problems and headaches.

Related Article: Scientists Plans to Train Tiny Robots to Suck Oil Spills

Testing the Waters

A sample of navy tap water from an elementary school tested positive for petroleum product on Wednesday, according to Hawaii’s Department of Health. On Thursday, the navy also said that testing revealed petroleum in its Red Hill well, which taps into an aquifer near the base.

The navy took the Red Hill well offline on Sunday because it was the closest well to the impacted housing zones, said Rear Adm Blake Converse, Pacific Fleet deputy commander, at a town hall meeting on Thursday.

Converse said the navy would run clean water through its distribution system to remove any leftover petroleum compounds and analyze the water to ensure it passes EPA drinking requirements. He estimated that the procedure would take four to ten days. The military has also promised to look into how pollutants got into the well and prevent it from happening again.

It’s still a mystery how the petroleum got into the water. However, on November 22, the navy announced that water and gasoline had seeped into a fire suppression system drain line in a tunnel at a major fuel storage facility three miles inland of Pearl Harbor. The navy claimed it had evacuated around 14,000 gallons (53,000 liters) of the combination and that it had not spilled.

Affected Families

Oil floats in the water of the Talbert Marshlands

(Photo : Getty Images)

So far, 680 houses in navy housing and 270 in army housing on the navy’s water system have reported a gasoline odor or medical complaints. The Department of Defense has begun distributing bottled water and stated that Marines would set up bathing and laundry facilities with clean water.

The army has stated that it will assist impacted families in relocating to hotels or new residences, and the navy is working on a similar scheme. The navy is also establishing medical facilities.

Burness said she started reading comments on social media from military families complaining that their tap water smelled like gasoline after her kid became ill.

She warned her family not to drink it or use it to wash their hair or face. She paid $120 each month for a private water supply. The family has largely been dining out and using plastic and paper plates.

Burness reported her stomach symptoms had improved by around 85% but were still there. The sickness in her daughter has subsided. Both, however, are now experiencing respiratory difficulties.

“Lack” of Respond

Burness expressed her dissatisfaction with the navy’s reaction, which she says dismisses the concerns of families. She cited a Monday email from the commander of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. He stated that the military evaluated water samples but had no direct evidence that the water was unsafe. According to his email, he and his team were drinking the water.

“All they had to say was, ‘We understand that there’s a problem, we don’t know what it is, and we’re going to do whatever it takes to figure it out and repair it.’ ‘Nope,’ we were told instead. It appears to be in good condition. It has a pleasant odor. Burness said, ‘Bye.’

According to Navy Region Hawaii, the commander’s email was issued when “numbers of concerns were still relatively low,” which supervises all Navy sites in the state.

“Since then, the navy has aggressively boosted sampling, testing, and communication to affected families and others, as well as created reaction teams of professionals to address the difficulties we’re all experiencing,” the command said in a statement.

The latest incident involving the Red Hill Gasoline Storage Facility, a network of 20 underground fuel tanks erected during WWII, occurred on November 22.                                                                                     

Since the military revealed in 2014 that one of the old tanks had spilled 27,000 gallons (102 kiloliters), environmentalists and Honolulu’s municipal water utility have voiced concerns about the aging tanks.

The tanks are located 100 feet (30 meters) above an aquifer that supplies nearly a quarter of Honolulu’s water, raising worries that leaks might pollute one of the city’s most important water sources. This is the same aquifer that the Red Hill well tapped and where the navy just discovered petroleum.

The Sierra Club of Hawaii and other environmental organizations called on the government to shut down the tanks last month.

Also Read: Deadly Virus Detected in Hawaiian Dolphin May Trigger Global Outbreak Amongst Marine Animals

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