After hearing from pregnant women, nursing mothers, and parents of children with rashes, stomach problems, and other illnesses that they believe may be related to petroleum in the Hawaiian Navy water supply, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro apologized to the Hawaiian military families and promised during a town hall meeting on Sunday to fix the problem.
“I apologize to each and every one of you for the fear we have caused you,” said Del Toro. “All I can do is fix it.”
The SecNav and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday visited City Hall and stayed two hours. Other Navy leaders, including Rear Admiral Blake Converse, deputy commandant of the US Pacific Fleet, asked questions for another two hours.
Del Toro said he plans to make pregnant women’s concerns a top priority and will instruct the Navy surgeon general to set up a separate hotline for pregnant women to answer their questions and concerns. He will also ask the surgeon general to provide information to breastfeeding mothers who have been unable to receive answers on whether to continue breastfeeding their babies because of ingesting fuel contaminated water.
“My promise to you is that we won’t just walk out of here and forget about you,” Del Toro said, noting that he has been meeting with his staff every day since he was informed of the issues on November 29th and “is coming to fruition “. any navy resource possible to solve the problem. That includes finding the source of the problem and addressing the long-term problems throughout the Hawaiian Navy water system, he said.
Del Toro traveled to Hawaii to attend the Pearl Harbor memorial services but said the “most important thing I can do” is to be at City Hall. Family security is more important to him than anything else.
During the four-hour City Hall, executives from families in all branches of service were faced with harsh, emotional questions about the source of the contagion, why families were not notified earlier of possible contagion, and why officials did not go door-to-door to notify them. They have been presented with conflicting information at times and many families are still unsure whether their water is safe to use.
There were also discrepancies in the handling of services for families in the various branches of service, with the Army being commended for being mainly soldiers from the 25 residential area in the Aliamanu Military Reserve, which draws its water from the Navy system. The Navy has also set up a family aid center and has water stations, but does not bring door-to-door water to residents.
A number of families first began to smell fuel in their water on November 28. But about a week earlier, they had unexplained rashes, gastrointestinal problems, headaches, and a host of other problems.
Officials said they have now identified three Air Force housing developments, five Navy wards and two Army wards that were affected by the contamination. There are approximately 7,000 residential units for families of all services within the Pearl Harbor-Hickam Joint Base. Of these, about 1,400 are in areas affected by these water problems, said Chuck Anthony, spokesman for the joint base. By Thursday, around 600 residents of the basic apartments had asked for tests.
Families currently fear for the health of their children and are concerned about the long-term effects. Pets and service dogs are suffering, and some families said they were forced to have them euthanized.
“I’m here to ask why you weren’t a wingman to protect my 13-month-old son when I was bathing him and I gave him a drink of water from my tap when he vomited for days on end,” said one Air Force woman who asked why officials didn’t tell families sooner not to drink or use the water, especially given previous fuel leaks.
“I’m here to ask why you weren’t my wingman since my husband and I had mysterious symptoms,” such as a sore throat, insatiable headache, vomiting, diarrhea, skin irritation and gastrointestinal problems, she said. These issues resulted in multiple visits to the emergency room.
“I’m here to ask why you weren’t there to protect my family when we made the heartbreaking decision to euthanize my beloved dog,” she said.
The family spent thousands of dollars trying to find out why their healthy dog suddenly coughed, choked, vomited, had difficulty breathing, lost appetite, became weak, had intermittent dry and oily poop, incoordination, tremors, and dehydration.
“It now makes sense why she apparently went without water for days and then vomited after drinking,” said the woman. “I dare say you murdered my dog, but causality is not related, so I have to speculate.”
Now that the issues have caught the attention of the national media, she said, “I beg you to fix this and fix this honestly. And please let us know how long we have been exposed so that we can prepare for years and decades to come. “
“My husband served his country gladly and willingly,” she said. “I have stood by his side and stood up for this community on a number of occasions as an important spouse, friend, and mentor to other spouses and service members, and I mistakenly assumed that this leadership would do the same to us every day.”
She cited information from the Environmental Protection Agency that daily ingestion of such products can damage the central nervous system, liver, kidneys, heart, lungs, and other vital organs, and asked why officials told families that the water was safe to drink and use.
Initial Navy tests showed no fuel in the water samples, but officials sent the samples to the mainland for more extensive testing. On December 3, results were positive for petroleum products in the Red Hill well, which the Navy closed on November 28 after reports began. Hawaii Department of Health officials also announced on Dec. 1 that a test at Red Hill Elementary School showed positive for petroleum products.
Officials are now trying to determine the type of fuel product. When asked if the problem could be sabotage, Captain James Meyer, commandant of Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command Hawaii, said they don’t think it’s likely, but are not ruling anything out at the moment.
Army and Navy officials have provided families with alternative housing; the army provides it through contracted hotel rooms; and the navy provides contracted hotel rooms and a procedure for a temporary lodging allowance and allowance.
Converse, the leader of the crisis team formed to address the water issues, said there is no estimated timetable for when the issues will be resolved, but a timetable should be available in the next few days.
The goal is to get everyone back to their homes before the holidays, he said, but added that he couldn’t guarantee it would. A number of experts, including specialists from the Army Corps of Engineers, were brought in to help them finalize their plan to safely remove petroleum contaminants from the water.
Concerns have been raised that some families may still drink and use the water.
A military woman whose husband is on duty said she drank water and showered twice a day until her husband’s first sergeant contacted her two days outside town hall on December 5. She had COVID last year, she said, and can’t smell it. She’s not on social media and wasn’t aware of the issues, she said. Now she is sick with stomach cramps and a rash. With two dogs, it is difficult for her to get a hotel room. She also has to eat out every day.
Karen has been reporting on military families, quality of life, and consumer issues for the Military Times for more than 30 years and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families. She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Florida, and Athens, Georgia.