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Lawmakers look to hotels, nearby schools to shelter families affected by Navy water system

water to red hill
Zoe Dym
/
HPR
A military truck brings clean water into Red Hill Navy housing. Families living in the area reported a fuel-like smell coming from their tap water earlier this week.

Lawmakers representing areas near the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility and Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam highlighted plans Thursday to help families dealing with tainted water.

Legislators say they hope to open gymnasium facilities at Radford, Aiea and Moanalua high schools to get access to clean water for residents. They also floated an idea to start a project similar to the "Hotels for Healthcare Heroes" program that allowed COVID-19 frontline healthcare workers to stay in hotels free of charge.

State Senator Glenn Wakai says the situation has reached a breaking point, but it has been building toward this for a long time, saying, "Many of us were at town hall meetings the past couple of days. We hear the anguish and pain conveyed by those who are having to be forced to bathe, drink, and cook with this dirty water."

"Since that big fuel spill in 2014, it’s been seven years, and very little has been done to address this issue. And maybe now that the Navy is hearing from its own people, they were not part of the core perhaps in the past, but now they join the rest of us civilians to say and maybe press the accelerator to push the Navy to really get some solutions on the table," Wakai said.

The state Legislature will hold a joint hearing with the Navy and Department of Health Friday at 10 a.m. to discuss the water issues.

State Senator Donna Mercado Kim says one of the topics she wants to discuss is why there is no laboratory in Hawaiʻi capable of stringent water testing, calling the situation “absurd.”

The state Department of Health said Wednesday that preliminary testing shows the presence of petroleum product in a water sample from Red Hill Elementary School. Samples were sent to California for further analysis.

The health department recommends all Navy water system users should avoid using the water for drinking, cooking, or oral hygiene. Users who detect a fuel-like odor from their water should further avoid using the water for bathing, dishwashing, or laundry.

State Toxicologist Diane Felton said petroleum exposure can cause the physical ailments some residents have reported.

Symptoms can include stomach pains, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Felton said other symptoms include rashes, dizziness, and headaches.

Zoe Dym is a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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