A survey shows hundreds of Red Hill families are still sick after a year

A survey shows hundreds of Red Hill families are still sick after a year

Almost a year after the Navy’s water system was polluted by a fuel leak, Hundreds of people still experience negative health effects after drinking contaminated water, according to the results of a state and federal survey released Wednesday.

Nearly 1,000 people affected by the crisis were surveyed in September, representing only a fraction of the 10,000 households near Pearl Harbor that received contaminated water.

Of these respondents, 80%—788 people—reported symptoms in the past 30 days such as headache, skin irritation, fatigue, and difficulty sleeping. According to the survey, 72% of pregnant women during the crisis experienced complications.

Lacey Quintero brought a file of her family’s medical records to the Hawaii Fuel Tank Advisory Committee meeting at the Capitol Hall. Corey Loom / Civil Beat / 2022

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which conducted the survey with the Hawaii Department of Health, He has not made a judgment on the cause of the health problems – chronic health problems that have been lingering since the past year or the result of some ongoing exposure. However, the Navy and the Department of Health confirmed that the water was safe to drink for several months.

On Wednesday, Lacey Quintero, a combat and military wife, told the Hawaii Fuel Tank Advisory Committee, which monitors Marine Red Hill’s activities, that she still had migraines, ringing in her ears and dizziness when she tried to stand up.

“We were all healthy before we moved here,” she said. “We’ve gotten sick every day since then.”

In the week of Thanksgiving 2021, families began reporting illnesses, including rashes, nausea, and a chemical smell in their water. Families had to move from their homes to hotels for several months before the water was finally deemed safe in all areas in March.

Many affected families, including Quintero, say they have had to spend thousands of dollars out of their pocket for medical expenses caused by the crisis and feel a lack of financial and other support from the Navy.

We exhausted a rainy day fund. Catherine McClanahan, the wife of an Air Force reservist, told Navy officials on Wednesday. “So here I am asking, what can you do for us?”

Admiral John Wade, commander of the Red Hill Combined Task Force, said he was unaware of any Department of Defense program to help families cover their medical expenses. However, he promised to pass witness letters to his superiors.

He said, “I hear you loud and clear.”

Pleas for help

McClanahan testified that uI have seen Numbness, tremor, trembling, migraine headache and ringing in the ears. Her doctor said she also had impairments in the cerebellum, the part of the brain that deals with balance and other motor functions. She appealed to Navy officials to share the components of the fuel contamination with affected families so that their doctors can treat them better.

“We want the best chance of a healthy life,” she said, standing next to a gallon-sized bag of her medication bottles. “We need your help.”

In addition to physical symptoms, the CDC survey also found that residents were traumatized by the experience: 57% of participants think about it every day, and 40% reported anxiety.

Although the Quintero family has moved to Waipaho — where the water is provided by the civil water utility — she said she was concerned about the fuel plume moving to the well that serves her neighborhood.

“I live in fear every day,” she said.

Catherine McClanahan shares her medical issues from ingesting fuel from a leak during the Health Department's Fuel Tank Advisory Committee meeting held at the Capitol Hall.  Cassie Chi, left helps carry a bag containing all of McLanahan's medications.
Catherine McClanahan spoke about the medical issues she experienced after taking fuel from Red Hill. Cassie Chi, left, carried a bag containing McClanahan’s medication. Corey Loom / Civil Beat / 2022

She is not the only one.

The survey found that more than half of respondents remain concerned about their water, and 85% still use alternative drinking water sources.

Nearly a third reported seeing a sparkle or detecting a smell in the water recently. The Department of Marine and State Health did not provide an explanation for these observations.

The Navy is the primary entity testing the waters in the wake of the crisis. The health department reviews the results they provide.

On Wednesday, Naval Captain Cameron Gerchima, commander of the Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command, acknowledged that the Army had ignored many of the water samples it collected at the start of the crisis, a fact first reported by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Once it was determined that fuel was in the system, he said, officials prioritized responding to contamination over keeping samples that could show detection levels in individual homes. This decision upset many families.

In response to the survey results, the CDC recommended that a third party do some water sampling to build trust with the community and address concerns when requested.

The team encouraged constant monitoring of the drinking water, which is ongoing, and ensuring that water quality test results are “accessible and understandable to the public.”

The CDC also suggested reviewing Department of Defense medical records to track symptoms in the community and encourage the creation of a registry, such as One created in response to water problems in Flint, Michiganthrough which victims can be connected to services.

An official report on survey results will be released in the coming months, according to the Hawaii Department of Health.

‘Such waste’

Meanwhile, the Navy has pumped and dumped more than 1 billion gallons of water from the primary Oahu aquifer in an effort to clean up fuel contamination at the World War II-era fuel facility, Navy officials said at the meeting.

While residents are under counseling to reduce their water use by 10%, the Navy has spent the past nine months pumping about five million gallons per day from the Red Hill well, filtering it and dumping clean water into the Halawa Stream.

The Red Hill Well Pipe will pump up to 5 million gallons of polluted water into 8 tanks containing carbon grains to filter the pollutants and then discharge through these large tubes into the Halawa Stream.
The Navy has been pouring 5 million gallons of filtered water into the Halawa Stream every day for months. Community members say it could be better used. Corey Loom / Civil Beat / 2022

was the plan Approved by the Hawaii Department of Health in January after a fuel leak in Red Hill contaminated the drinking water supply. The idea was to suction the polluted water from the aquifer to control the spread of the pollution and filter it using a granular activated carbon filtration system.

The Navy and the Department of Health have discussed the possibility of reusing that water for a purpose, such as irrigation. But as of this week, there is still no plan to reuse the water.

This is not acceptable, according to Member of the Hawaii Fuel Tank Advisory Committee Melanie Lau.

“It’s such a waste,” she said at the meeting. “It’s been 11 months. You haven’t come up with a reuse plan. It doesn’t make us feel good or help.”

Kathy Ho, Hawaii’s deputy director of environmental health, said the Department of Health has urged the Navy to develop a water reuse plan but has yet to receive one. She said the Navy is working on a study to explore its options.

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