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Hundreds of US military families in Pearl Harbor sickened by petroleum-contaminated water

This photo shows a tunnel inside the Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in 2018. (Photo by AP)

Hundreds of US military families living near Pearl Harbor have complained of health issues due to contamination in the Navy’s water system.

The US Navy confirmed the presence of petroleum in a water well near Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Speaking at a virtual town hall on Thursday night, Pacific Fleet deputy commander Rear Adm. Blake Converse said there were "pretty conclusive indications that there are volatile petroleum products" in the Red Hill well, which taps into an aquifer near the base.

The problems have afflicted one of the most important US Navy bases in the world, home to submarines, ships and the commander of US forces in the Indo-Pacific region.

The Navy said it has so far received complaints about a fuel odor or physical ailments from 680 homes in Navy housing and 270 in Army housing relying on its water system, which serves 93,000 people.

The Navy will investigate how petroleum made its way into the well, Converse said, adding that clean water will be flushed through distribution systems to rid the water of residual contaminants, a process that could take up to ten days.  

The well has been knocked offline since Sunday because it was in close proximity to housing areas where residents raised concerns about contamination.

The crisis comes after the Navy on November 22 said a mixture of water and fuel had leaked into a fire suppression system in a tunnel at a massive fuel storage facility 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) inland of Pearl Harbor.

The Navy said it removed about 14,000 gallons (53 kiloliters) of the mixture and concluded that the environment was not contaminated.

US congressman Kai Kahele, a Democrat representing Hawaii's 2nd congressional district, sounded the alarm about the situation, warning that military families would face a "crisis of astronomical proportions" if they lost access to safe drinking water.

At a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Thursday morning, Kahele said he had "personally visited some of the impacted military personnel and their families.”

"Our military families, people are getting sick, animals are getting sick and our military families need answers," he said.

Earlier this week, the Hawaii Department of Health issued an advisory to the thousands of people relying on the Navy's water system, asking them to stop using the water for "drinking, cooking or oral hygiene."


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