Navy finds drinking water well near Pearl Harbor contaminated with petroleum

·2 min read
A tunnel inside the Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on Jan. 26, 2018. (Shannon Haney / AP) (Shannon Haney)

The U.S. Navy said it has detected petroleum in a drinking water well near Pearl Harbor days after military families raised concerns that the water appeared to be contaminated.

Speaking at a virtual town hall on Thursday night, Rear Adm. Blake Converse said the Navy had "pretty conclusive indications that there are volatile petroleum products" in the Red Hill well.

The well has been isolated since Sunday after military households reported concerns, according to Converse, the Pacific Fleet deputy commander.

He said the incident appeared to be isolated, with tests conducted "throughout the rest of the Navy water distribution system" coming back negative for the presence of petroleum.

Ahead of Thursday's town hall, U.S. Rep Kai Kahele, a Democrat, had sounded the alarm about the situation, warning that military families would face a "crisis of astronomical proportions" if they could not access safe drinking water.

Speaking at a U.S. House Armed Services Committee hearing on Thursday morning, he said he had "personally visited some of the impacted military personnel and their families" and heard that the water was making them feel sick.

"Our military families, people are getting sick, animals are getting sick and our military families need answers," he said.

Earlier this week, the Hawaii Department of Health advised the thousands of people relying on the water system to stop using the water for "drinking, cooking or oral hygiene".

It added that those who detected a "fuel-like odor" in the water should also avoid using the water for bathing, dishwashing, laundry and other purposes.

The health department issued the advisory after a preliminary analysis detected petroleum products in water samples taken from the Red Hill Elementary School.

However, it stressed that the findings were preliminary and said samples had been sent to a lab in California for further analysis.

The department said it had received more than 175 complaints over the issue.

Converse said officials were working to restore safe drinking water so "families and others impacted can return to a normal life with safe reliable water."

He added that officials were still working to determine what caused the contamination in the first place.

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