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Navy reports no evidence of ‘chronic exposure’ from Red Hill fuel spill

Soldiers fill containers with potable water for Aliamanu Military Reservation residents on Dec. 15, 2021, in the aftermath of a fuel leak at the Navy Red Hill fuel storage facility.
Sgt. 1st Class Richard Lower/25th Division Sustainment Brigad
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Digital
Soldiers fill containers with potable water for Aliamanu Military Reservation residents on Dec. 15, 2021, in the aftermath of the November 2021 fuel leak at the military's Red Hill fuel storage facility.

The Department of Defense has set up a medical database to track the health impacts of jet fuel that leaked from Red Hill into the Navy’s water system, according to U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Capt. Michael McGinnis.

A U.S. Navy Joint Health Services Workgroup is monitoring the health of service members and families who were once subjected to the contaminated drinking water.

McGinnis, a surgeon and medical advisor, said many who presented symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, headaches, and skin irritation, did so immediately after the November 2021 leak, and were consistent with fuel exposure.

“98% of all encounters through this crisis occurred within that first month, we certainly did see members and families continue to present and this was primarily asymptomatic individuals who are looking for documentation in the medical record,” McGinnis said at a news conference last week.

McGinnis says that’s consistent with an acute-defined event.

“We do not have evidence of chronic exposure,” McGinnis said. “However, we are very sensitive to that concern. And this is why we have established a DOD registry for all beneficiaries served by that Navy water distribution system within the DOD.”

A May report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly 2,000 people experienced symptoms consistent with fuel exposure. Many have reported long-term health effects.

McGinnis says the group is currently reviewing those who presented symptoms following the November spill.

“The initial assessment is that there is no evidence to highlight increased diagnoses or symptoms that would be concerning for contaminated water exposure,” he said “We're refining that analysis and we'll continue to assess and monitor the health and well-being of our families.”

Sabrina Bodon is a general assignment reporter at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Contact her at sbodon@hawaiipublicradio.org or 808-792-8252.
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