Hawaii residents could be displaced for 6 to 8 weeks amid water crisis
▶ Watch Video: U.S. Navy investigating Hawaii fuel leak linked to contaminated tap water
Some residents connected to the U.S. Navy’s water system in Hawaii will be displaced for weeks after petroleum products were detected in the water, Army officials said Friday. An estimated 93,000 people have been unable to use the water for several weeks.
The announcement comes the same day the state’s department of health said that a water sample taken from the Red Hill drinking water shaft on December 5 confirmed the water is contaminated with “high levels” of petroleum and gasoline. The sample detected total petroleum hydrocarbons diesel range organics levels 350 times above the recommended level for drinking water, and gasoline range organics more than 66 times the recommended levels.
Lower levels of petroleum products were also found in samples collected from the Aliamanu Child Development Center as well as homes located on the Navy’s water system, the department of health said.
Health officials recommend that people on the Navy’s Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam water system, including the Aliamanu Military Reservation, Red Hill and Nimitz Elementary Schools and military housing, avoid using water for drinking, cooking or cleaning. The warning extends to pets.
In a press conference early Friday morning local time, officials issued similar warnings for Army families.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we are asking all Army families to not use the water in the effected areas for anything — anything,” U.S. Army Major General Joseph Ryan said.
The Navy has said it is also working to find a solution, but it has not released a statement following the department of health’s Friday announcement.
The Red Hill well was first found to be contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons early last week, days after nearby residents reported a fuel-like smell in their tap water. The well draws on an aquifer, which is located approximately 100 feet below a fuel storage farm near the Pearl Harbor military base. The water system has been shut off since November 28, and the Navy has suspended the use of the fuel storage farm.
The incident remains under investigation. However, the fuel tanks have had a history of leaking, with the most recent reported leak occurring in November.
U.S. military personnel have been handing out water to residents and helping those who are eligible relocate to hotels. The state’s health department has demanded that the Navy develop a plan to address the issue, which military officials say they are finalizing.
Army officials said Friday their plan will include two phases: flushing the system and then filtering it, which includes testing the water. Exact plans will likely be finalized within 10 days.
This is why, Army officials said, water will not be restored, and those who were displaced will not be able to return home, for six to eight weeks.
“We are extremely concerned about it, and we are — as much as you are — frustrated by the current situation, inconvenienced by the current situation,” Ryan said Friday. “And just, our world — like your world — has been turned upside down a little bit…. We are in this together.”
Nearby residents have reported an array of health issues, including headaches and stomach pains. One woman said her family had to put down their dog after it developed “mysterious symptoms.”
According to the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, exposure to different total petroleum hydrocarbons can cause fatigue, headache, nausea, drowsiness, paralysis and death depending on the length of the exposure and type of chemical compound.
The Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility has 20 steel-lined underground tanks, which can collectively store up to 250 million gallons of fuel. The tanks are encased in concrete and stored inside cavities of a volcanic mountain ridge near Honolulu, according to The Associated Press. Pipelines from the tanks run 2.5 miles inside a tunnel to fueling piers at Pearl Harbor.