Maui News

Survey Begins on civilians affected by Navy water system contamination at JBPPH

January 4, 2022, 8:20 AM HST
* Updated January 4, 5:49 AM
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US Rep. Ed Case touring the Army’s Family Assistance Center at the Āliamanu Military Reservation and the Marine and Navy assistance sites at Halsey Terrace, and a Town Hall at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. PC: Courtesy

A public health team will conduct a survey beginning today, Jan. 4, 2022 to investigate the potential health impacts on the civilian population affected by the contamination of the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Water Distribution System.  

The team is comprised of members from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry at the request of the Hawaiʻi State Department of Health.

Under DOH’s direction, investigators from the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health and ATSDR will survey civilians living in homes serviced by the joint base water distribution system. Efforts will also be made to survey individuals who may have been exposed through their job or at school.  

Civilian Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam water distribution system users who were affected by the contaminated water and would like to participate in the survey can contact the CDC/ATSDR team at 404-657-3256 or [email protected] US Department of Defense affiliated personnel and their dependents are being tracked through a separate DOD registry. 

Hawaiʻi State Department of Health Toxicologist Dr. Diana Felton

“Contamination of the Navy’s water system has reached far beyond the military community,” said Hawaiʻi State Department of Health Toxicologist Dr. Diana Felton in a department press release. “It is vital that we document and track how this incident affected all Hawaiʻi residents. This effort will help us better understand the impacts of this contamination event and determine what steps are needed to protect the health of civilians who were exposed. We thank the CDC/ATSDR for its partnership on this project.” 

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The 20-minute survey will include questions about ways people were exposed to the contaminated water, health symptoms they experienced, and medical care they sought. It also will cover impacts on the participant’s children and pets, health status prior to the water contamination, and ways to contact the participant in the future. Initially, surveys will be conducted in person and by phone. A web-based survey option is being developed. The DOH advises that participation is voluntary and participant identities will be kept confidential. 

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The information gathered from the health assessment is aimed at furthering the understanding of how the contamination impacted the health of Hawaiʻi residents and inform decision making on potential future health monitoring. Results will be summarized in a report that will be made publicly available. 

The CDC/ATSDR and DOH survey team will visit various housing areas on the Navy water system. Surveyors will be fully vaccinated and wearing masks. They also will be wearing CDC vests and CDC/ATSDR employees carry US Department of Health and Human Services identification.  

ATSDR’s Assessment of Chemical Exposure program helps state and local health departments conduct rapid epidemiological assessments when toxic substance spills or chemical emergencies happen.

DOH Upholds Hearings Officer’s Recommendation
on Red Hill Emergency Order

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The Hawai‘i Department of Health finalized its Emergency Order to suspend operations and empty the underground tanks at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility. Deputy Director Marian Tsuji’s final order affirmed Hearings Officer David Day’s proposed findings and recommendations.

“Today’s decision affirms DOH’s actions to safeguard the drinking water that we share as a community,” said Deputy Director of Environmental Health Kathleen Ho, who issued the Emergency Order on Dec. 6. “In light of today’s ruling, we call upon the Navy to act without further delay to address the imminent peril this facility poses to the people and environment of Hawai‘i.”

Click here to read Deputy Director Tsuji’s final decision. The ruling finalizes DOH’s Dec. 6 order, which requires the Navy to:

  • Immediately suspend operations at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Tanks, including fuel transfers. The Navy must continue to maintain environmental and monitoring controls.
  • Take immediate steps to install drinking water treatment system(s) at Red Hill Shaft to ensure distribution of drinking water conforms to the standards prescribed by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and applicable federal and state regulations. This action should also minimize movement of the contaminant plume(s).
  • Submit a workplan and implementation schedule within 30 days, prepared by a qualified independent third party approved by DOH, to assess the operations and system integrity to safely defuel the Bulk Fuel Storage Tanks. Upon DOH’s approval of the assessment, workplan and implementation schedule, the Navy must make necessary corrective actions to address any deficiencies as expeditiously as possible.
  • Within 30 days of completion of required corrective actions, remove fuel from the Bulk Fuel Storage Tanks at the Red Hill facility.
  • Within 30 days, submit a workplan and implementation schedule, prepared by a qualified independent third party approved by DOH, to assess operations and system integrity of the Red Hill facility to determine design and operational deficiencies that may impact the environment and develop recommendations for corrective action. Upon the Department’s approval, the Navy must perform work and implement corrective actions as expeditiously as possible.

The DOH reports that parties have 30 days to appeal the final order to the Hawai‘i Circuit Court. The order will remain in effect unless it is stayed by a court.

“The Navy technically can appeal the Department of Health’s decision, but now is not the time for delay tactics,” said David Henkin, the Earthjustice attorney who represented the Sierra Club of Hawai‘i in the underlying contested case hearing. “The threat to O‘ahu’s irreplaceable drinking water supply is far too dire for lawyers’ games. It is time for the Navy finally to do the right thing and promptly comply with the Department of Health’s order to defuel the Red Hill tanks.”

DOH updates on the Navy water system incident are posted online.

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