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Health department OKs water in one Pearl Harbor neighborhood after fuel leak

Water Testing at Pearl Harbor Navy water system
U.S. Navy
JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM (Feb. 2, 2022) – A Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command contractor collects a water sample. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Stephanie Butler)

The state Department of Health declared tap water safe to drink Monday at the Red Hill Housing military community on Oʻahu.

While only 10% of the homes were tested for fuel contamination, the state will conduct ongoing sampling to ensure the safety of the water.

Red Hill Housing includes 135 homes as well as Red Hill Elementary School. The U.S. Army oversees the community, but it is served by the Navy’s water distribution system.

Thousands of residents on the water system have reported illnesses as a result of fuel contamination in the system since late last year. About 4,000 military families have been living in hotels since early December.

The Navy’s water system is divided into 19 zones, and the Red Hill Housing community is in the first zone determined to have safe drinking water. The DOH’s health advisory against using tap water is still in effect for the other 18 zones.

DOH Deputy Director Kathleen Ho says the state is confident contaminants have been removed in the Red Hill Housing area.

"The work has included careful examination of how the system works, verifying that contaminated water is no longer entering the system, and flushing and testing to make sure that no contamination remains in the system," Ho said.

Health officials say testing 10% of the homes gives them 99% confidence that the water in all buildings is safe.

The Associated Press reports Dr. Diana Felton, the state’s toxicologist, said trace levels of petroleum were found in one sample from the zone but did not rise above a threshold the department had set for safety.

Ho says anyone who continues to detect fuel in their drinking water should contact the DOH, and the water will be tested.

The state will continue to test even after residents return.

The department said it would test the water in 5% of the area’s homes in the first three months, followed by 10% of homes every six months over the following two years.

Officials say water sampling due to the contamination will have cost the state about $4.5 million by early June, and they intend to recover the money from the Navy.

The Army’s Task Force Ohana, which was set up to assist residents dealing with the crisis, will support residents of Red Hill Housing as they return to their homes.

 Navy Drinking Water System - Health Advisory Status as of Feb. 14, 2022 department of health
Department of Health
Navy Drinking Water System - Health Advisory Status as of Feb. 14, 2022

Scott Kim is a news editor at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Contact him at
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