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4 Dec, 2021 01:36

‘Crisis of astronomical proportions’ over Pearl Harbor contamination

‘Crisis of astronomical proportions’ over Pearl Harbor contamination

The US Navy has confirmed that the water used by military families near Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor is contaminated with “volatile petroleum products,” forcing a shutdown that may leave taps dry for over a week.

Tests on the system that supplies drinking water to homes at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam showed “pretty conclusive indications that there are volatile petroleum products in the well,” Rear Admiral Blake Converse told reporters on Thursday, referring to the Red Hill well servicing hundreds of military families. The well has been shut down since Sunday and will remain closed as the Navy purges the dangerous chemicals from the system.

On Friday, the Board of Water Supply also shut down the Halawa shaft, responsible for some 20% of the water supply to urban Honolulu, pointing out that both wells draw water from the same aquifer.

Converse assured residents that the contamination was isolated and confined to the Red Hill well, claiming that tests “throughout the rest of the Navy water distribution system” had failed to find any traces of petroleum. The system’s 93,000 customers have been urged to avoid drinking the water as a precaution.

However, there are mounting concerns that the tainted water could have already leaked to other city wells. On Tuesday, a University of Hawaii lab said it had discovered traces of a petroleum product in a sample collected from Red Hill Elementary School.

Military families reportedly began complaining of a gasoline or chemical smell in their drinking water after a November 20 fuel leak. It transpired that more than 14,000 gallons of a water-fuel mixture had leaked from an underground storage facility, but the Navy said at the time that the spill had been confined to a tunnel and hadn’t affected water supplies, including an aquifer below the storage tanks that supplies Oahu.

The latest Navy statement followed comments at a congressional hearing earlier on Thursday by US Representative Kai Kahele (D-Hawaii). “The Navy is currently experiencing a crisis of astronomical proportions in Hawaii,” Kahele said. He said nearly 100,000 residents were without water because of the system shutdown, and many people and animals had been made sick by the contamination.

Kahele also brought a water sample to the hearing. “I can tell you myself that if you smell this water, you would know that there is something wrong with [it],” he said. “There’s a petroleum product in this water.”

More than 900 Navy and Army families reported strange odors in their water, or physical ailments, between the time of the fuel leak and Thursday’s announcement of testing results, the Associated Press reported.

With supplies now offline for an estimated four to 10 days, the military has offered to help families to make a temporary move into hotels or new homes. The Navy is distributing bottled water, while the Marines will provide showering and laundering facilities, and dedicated medical clinics are also being set up.