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Petroleum found in Pearl Harbor tap water

The state confirmed Tuesday that an inspector did detect a fuel odor when visiting two schools...
The state confirmed Tuesday that an inspector did detect a fuel odor when visiting two schools ― Red Hill Elementary and the Aliamanu child development center.(Hawaii News Now/file)
Published: Dec. 3, 2021 at 8:29 AM CST
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HONOLULU (KHNL/Gray News) - Nearly five days after Pearl Harbor-Hickam military households first reported their tap water smelled like fuel and was making them sick, the Navy on Thursday night announced its tests have confirmed the presence of petroleum in the Red Hill drinking water well, KHNL reported.

“We have pretty conclusive indications that there are volatile petroleum products in the well,” said U.S. Pacific Fleet Deputy Commander Blake Converse at a virtual town hall on Thursday night. “And we determined that it is the likely source of the contamination of our water distribution system across the Navy system.”

He said the Red Hill well, part of the Pearl Harbor-Hickam system, has been isolated since Sunday.

Tests conducted “throughout the rest of the Navy water distribution system” have come back negative for petroleum, he added.

That’s in contrast with the results from the state Health Department, which found petroleum in a water sample from Red Hill Elementary School.

And in a sample KHNL sent to a private lab, technicians detected the presence of diesel.

Meanwhile, the Board of Water Supply has said its systems are not impacted by the contamination. But officials also expressed concern the contamination in the Navy’s water could spread.

Navy officials said by identifying the source of the contamination, they hoped to be able to move quickly to “develop a plan to restore the potable water system to EPA standards.”

In a news release late Thursday, the Navy said the Red Hill sample contained levels of petroleum hydrocarbons “roughly four to 10 times below the Hawaii Department of Health Environmental Action Level.” The Navy did not release the actual sample results, however.

Converse added there is also work underway to determine how the petroleum got in the well in the first place. Since the contamination reports first arose, there’s been intense scrutiny on the Navy’s Red Hill Fuel Storage Facility — whose underground tanks are situated above the aquifer.

The Associated Press reported that the Navy on Nov. 22 said a water and fuel mixture had leaked at a massive fuel storage facility three miles inland of Pearl Harbor. The Navy said it removed approximately 14,000 gallons of the mixture, and claimed it hadn’t leaked into the environment.

The Navy has gotten complaints from 680 homes in Navy housing and 270 in Army housing on the Navy’s water system about a fuel odor or physical ailments, the Associated Press reported. The water system serves 93,000 people.

The tainted water has prompted widespread concern among government officials.

On Thursday morning, U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele called the threat a crisis “of astronomical proportions” and called on the Navy to move more quickly to identify the problem and fix it.

State lawmakers had a similar message for the Navy.

The state Department of Health said Thursday night it had received the results of the Navy’s tests and was not changing its recommendation to residents.

The Health Department has urged those on the Navy water line not to drink water from the tap. Those who smell fuel are being told not to use the water for household chores or bathing.

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