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The Conversation

Water distribution sites for Pearl Harbor area; Health officials say do not drink water from the Navy system

While some water filters are designed to screen out potentially deadly lead, many filters and bottled water with added minerals simply improve the taste of water.
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Water distribution sites have been set up at Halsey Terrace Community Center, the NEX parking lot - Moanalua Terrace, Catlin Park Community Center, and Ohana Nui - Hickam Makai Rec Center, the Navy announced. A valid military ID and verification of address will be required.

The state Department of Health said Tuesday tests of water samples from the Navy's water system at Pearl Harbor have so far been inconclusive after it received more than 100 complaints about fuel-like odor coming from tap water in the area.

Kathleen Ho, the department's deputy director for environmental health, said samples sent to a Hawaiʻi lab showed there were no contaminants in the water up to five parts per million. But that doesn't mean there weren't contaminants in the water, she said.

The department expects to get results from samples sent to a California lab later this week, possibly as soon as Wednesday.

A military mom who arrived on the island about a year ago shared her frustrations about communication with the military. She asked Hawaiʻi Public Radio not to use her name because she was afraid of repercussions.

"A lot of people are upset. Everyone's very frustrated and concerned, you know, that we haven't gotten any updates," she said. "It was nice to finally read 'do not use the water,' because we just want acknowledgment — the water smells bad."

The Navy recommended Monday night residents avoid ingestion of their potable water as a cautionary measure "if chemical or petroleum odors are present."

"They keep using the word several, you know, several households are affected. It's hundreds of people, you know, it's not just a few people, or two or three," she added.

On Tuesday at 4 p.m., the Navy said approximately 200 residents have called their helpline for testing. Known impacted neighborhoods are Catlin Park, Halsey Terrace, Radford Terrace, Doris Miller, Moanalua Terrace and Ohana Nui.

The health department on Monday separately recommended that all Navy water customers avoid drinking their tap water. It also recommended that those who can smell fuel in their water avoid using it for bathing, washing dishes and laundry.

Ho said she would stand by these recommendations until the department gets further results.

The Navy said its engineers inspected water storage tanks, wells and distribution lines for contaminants. It also flushed distribution lines associated with housing communities that have reported contamination.

It's also asking residents in military housing to run the water in their homes for three to five minutes to help move water through the system and possibly alleviate the odor.

Hawaiʻi’s congressional delegation released the following statement after meeting with Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, "Given the resources and engineering expertise available to the Navy, we made it clear that there is zero tolerance for endangering the health and safety of the public or the environment."

"Most recently, reports of fuel potentially contaminating the water supply at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam followed by a slow, inadequate response are especially troubling," they said.

Separately, Commander of the Pacific Fleet Adm. Sam Paparo has ordered an investigation into a water and fuel leak in the Navy Red Hill fuel storage facility's fire suppression system around Nov. 20. The Navy said no fuel leaked into the environment.

The Honolulu Board of Water Supply said it is increasing testing of its water sources in the area of Red Hill as a cautionary measure. BWS said its water system is entirely separate from the Navy and it is not receiving similar complaints.

BWS officials said if you receive a bill for water and sewer services from the BWS, you are part of its service area. If not, your water comes from the Navy.

As The Conversation heard from military moms this week, they feel that when it comes to their children’s health, they want action.

Military housing residents with concerns can call the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Emergency Operations Center at (808) 448-2570, (808) 448-3262, or (808) 448-2583.

This interview aired on The Conversation on Nov. 30, 2021.

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