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Lawmakers skeptical as US Navy blames jet fuel for Pearl Harbor water crisis

Honolulu shut down its largest water source on Oahu following reported contamination in the potable water system.

The US Navy has blamed a one-time spill of jet fuel for the contaminated tap water that sickened hundreds of military families living near Pearl Harbor last month, but lawmakers are skeptical.

Pacific Fleet deputy commander Rear Adm. Blake Converse said on Friday that Navy officials are very confident the contamination was the result of 14,000 gallons (52,995 liters) of jet fuel spilled at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility inside an access tunnel that provides fire suppression and service lines for the complex.

The spill was cleaned up, Converse claimed, but military households and others have complained for weeks about health issues ranging from stomach pain to vomiting after they drank the water. Some people have been hospitalized.

The deputy commander said it appeared some jet fuel from the access tunnel had leaked into the Navy’s water distribution system, which serves about 93,000 people, including those in military housing.

Samples collected by the state Health Department earlier this month at the complex’s water shaft and tested in a California lab found petroleum levels 66 to 350 times higher than the limits considered safe for drinking water, officials said on Friday.

The contamination 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 had said it would carry out an investigation after a number of state lawmakers sounded the alarm about the water crisis near Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

At a briefing on Friday, Navy officials told lawmakers that they were confident the contamination was not caused by the underground fuel tanks that have been the source of a number of leaks in recent years.

“The Navy is responsible for this crisis,” Adm. Samuel Paparo, commander of US Pacific Fleet, told lawmakers. “We are taking ownership and we are going to fix it.”

But lawmakers were skeptical, saying they wanted the state Health Department and the Environmental Protection Agency to confirm the source of the fuel in the Navy’s water distribution system.

“The Navy, frankly, lately hasn’t given us a lot of reason to trust them so I think we all feel that we want an independent agency to come in and verify,” said Rep. Nicole Lowen, chair of the state House Environment Committee.

State Senator Donna Mercado Kim also said, “It’s hard to trust anything they say.”

The state Health Department says the cause of the leak remains under investigation.


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