Navy personnel collect a water sample from the Red Hill well in Hawaii in March 2022.

Navy personnel collect a water sample from the Red Hill well in Hawaii in March 2022. (Christopher Thomas/U.S. Navy)

HONOLULU — A Navy spouse’s exposure to jet fuel-contaminated tap water in 2021 did not result in long-term neurological problems, a neurologist testified Thursday in Hawaii federal court.

Dr. Barry Gordon offered his medical opinion on Nastasia Freeman, one of 17 plaintiffs in the civil suit Feindt vs. United States, as a defense witness for the U.S. government.

Gordon’s judgment challenged testimony offered by a medical expert last week that the mother of three sustained neurological injuries from the tainted water.

“I’m saying she does not have any long-term, organic disorders due to exposure,” Gordon said under cross-examination by plaintiffs’ attorney Lyle Hosoda, who questioned the neurologist based on his previously submitted, sworn declaration in the case.

On May 1, Dr. Steven Storage, a psychiatrist appearing on behalf of the plaintiffs, testified that the trauma of exposure to the contaminated water left Freeman with neurological injuries in her frontal lobe.

U.S. District Court Judge Leslie Kobayashi, who is hearing the case without a jury, has reiterated throughout the trial, which began April 29, that she is only trying to determine the cause of the plaintiffs’ medical problems and how much they should be compensated.

Freeman had moved to Hawaii in May 2021 with her husband, Koda Freeman, a Navy lieutenant, and their children.

They lived at Aliamanu Military Reservation, one of the military housing communities closest to the Red Hill well, which became contaminated shortly before Thanksgiving Day 2021 by a jet fuel spill at the Navy’s nearby Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.

For much of her life, Freeman had a condition called temporal lobe epilepsy that sometimes manifested with seizures. Those episodes had been dormant for about two years, but the seizures began again in the wake of exposure to tainted water, Freeman testified last week.

Gordon said in his declaration that he had given Freeman a physical examination, which included observations for things such as level of alertness, facial expressions, word choice, posture, eye movement and many other physical manifestations.

He also reviewed Freeman’s medical record and results from various tests such as blood studies, electroencephalograms, CT scans and MRIs.

“In my opinion, based upon all of the available evidence, Ms. Freeman does not presently have any long-term organic neurologic problems from the alleged exposure(s) at Red Hill, to a reasonable degree of medical probability,” Gordon said in his declaration.

Under cross-examination by Hosoda, Gordon acknowledged that jet fuel is a toxin that can cause neurological injury.

Gordon also conceded that he did not undertake quantitative analysis of the extent of Freeman’s exposure to fuel and instead used analysis done by Robyn Prueitt, a toxicologist who appeared on the stand for the defense this week.

Prueitt concluded that medical problems cited by the plaintiffs were not caused by jet fuel exposure.

Gordon’s opinion, however, did leave room for the possibility that Freeman could be suffering from a non-organic neurological illness.

“It is well known that having a belief that a disease is present, even if false, such as a belief that neurologic conditions are due to an alleged exposure, can have significant negative consequences for an individual’s well-being and behavior,” Gordon said in his declaration.

The trial is scheduled to conclude Monday.

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Wyatt Olson is based in the Honolulu bureau, where he has reported on military and security issues in the Indo-Pacific since 2014. He was Stars and Stripes’ roving Pacific reporter from 2011-2013 while based in Tokyo. He was a freelance writer and journalism teacher in China from 2006-2009.

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