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Military housing residents prepare legal action against Navy over fuel-contaminated water

Pearl Harbor navy water flushing
Mass Communication Specialist 2n/Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet
JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaiʻi (Dec. 30, 2021) A construction electrician examines a bathroom sink during the home water system flushing restoration process at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam housing communities. (U.S. Navy)

A former Hawaiʻi attorney general is preparing legal action against the Navy over jet fuel contamination of its Pearl Harbor water supply.

Margery Bronster says she is targeting the Navy because it is ultimately responsible for the water crisis.

Elisapeta Alaimaleata was born in Samoa. She moved to Hawaiʻi and immediately came to appreciate the state’s pure, natural resources — especially the water.

But over the past months, Alaimaleata’s life has been thrown into disarray by jet fuel contamination in the Navy’s water distribution system that serves Pearl Harbor. A resident of military housing, Alaimaleata says she and her family have suffered numerous effects, including skin lesions, bloating, headaches and fatigue.

"My children are also affected. No one should be going through all of this. It’s very challenging and it disrupts your everyday living," Alaimaleata said.

Beyond the physical, Alaimaleata says it is the mental stress that has taken a huge toll on her.

She is one of 14 clients working with former state Attorney General Margery Bronster’s law firm to file claims against the Navy, the first step in bringing legal action.

Bronster says she hopes the Navy responds positively, but if not, they intend to file a lawsuit.

"The people who have suffered without water, it’s more than an inconvenience. They’ve suffered financially, they’ve suffered with their health, and they’ve suffered a total upheaval in their lives and well-being," Bronster said.

If a class-action lawsuit is filed against the Navy, it would be the first attempt to hold the Navy directly responsible. Other lawsuits have gone after managing companies of military housing communities.

Bronster is partnering with a mainland environmental law firm, McCune Wright Arevalo, which has previous experience in such cases.

MWA Partner Corey Weck says a similar situation involved water contamination over decades at Camp LeJeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

Acknowledging the difficulty of suing an entity like the Navy, Weck characterized the results of legal action there as mixed. While the Department of Veterans Affairs is treating many of those affected, thousands were denied civil claims and continue to battle the military over the issue.

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