Support our mission
 
Sailors load water into a car at the Navy Exchange just outside of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Dec. 1, 2021. It is one of three water distribution sites set up by the Navy for residents of military housing experiencing foul-smelling tap water in their homes.
Sailors load water into a car at the Navy Exchange just outside of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Dec. 1, 2021. It is one of three water distribution sites set up by the Navy for residents of military housing experiencing foul-smelling tap water in their homes. (Wyatt Olson/Stars and Stripes)

FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii — Preliminary tests disclosed the presence of petroleum in tap water from an elementary school near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, the Hawaii Department of Health said Wednesday.

Samples collected Tuesday from Red Hill Elementary School, which is near military housing and uses the Navy’s water system, were tested at a lab at the University of Hawaii and found positive for a “petroleum product,” the health department said in a news release.

Samples have been sent to Eurofins Scientific in California for further analysis, the health department said.

Residents of several military housing communities on and around the joint base began complaining of foul-smelling tap water on Sunday. Some have complained of an oily sheen. Others have complained of illnesses and rashes.

The Navy and the health department have tested scores of water samples from homes, but results have been inconclusive.

The health department has received more than 175 complaints, while the Navy said in a Facebook post Tuesday evening that roughly 200 residents have called in to request testing of foul-smelling water.

The health department has advised residents in homes using the Navy water system to avoid using tap water for drinking, cooking and oral hygiene.

In homes where odor or sheen has been detected, the health department advises residents to not even use the water for bathing, dishwashing or laundry.

The commander of Navy Region Hawaii, Rear Adm. Timothy Kott, said during a town hall meeting Tuesday night that Navy technicians had sampled and flushed lines from the three wells that supply water to roughly 7,000 homes.

The Navy had tested another 80 samples arising from residents’ complaints, he said during the gathering at Moanalua Terrace, one of the affected Navy housing communities.

No trace of “hydrocarbons” was found in any of the samples, he said.

The Navy sent samples to a lab in Washington state where more sensitive testing could detect much more minute levels of “hydrocarbons, fuels and oils.” They expected results as early as Wednesday.

The Navy set up three water distribution sites on or near affected neighborhoods.

Early Wednesday morning, about a dozen cars pulled up to the huge water tanker over a 30-minute span, where sailors filled one- and five-gallon jugs for residents of affected communities.

Nadine Johnson, who lives in Onizuka Village on the joint base, popped open the back of her SUV for a five-gallon container.

“We have an odor,” she said. “Not strong, but definitely noticeable. It’s some kind of chemical smell.”

They first noticed it on Sunday night.

“Our kids came out of the bathroom and said there’s something wrong with the water,” Johnson said.

One resident attending Tuesday’s town hall asked Kott whether the water might have been contaminated on purpose given the communities’ connection to the military.

“We see no indications of a chemical attack,” Kott said. “I can understand why you may think that.”

Some residents wonder whether leakage from the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility might be to blame for the befouled water.

The World War II-era tanks have long been a source of contention, with some arguing that the site should be permanently shut down. The Navy maintains that it is essential to national security.

The commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, Adm. Samuel Paparo, on Monday ordered a command investigation of a leak of a water-fuel mixture earlier this month from a fire suppression drain line downhill from the facility. He also ordered a review of a May incident in which about 1,600 gallons of jet fuel leaked out of a pipeline at the facility.

“I know there’s frustration,” Kott said at the town hall. “I know there’s disappointment. The bottom-line fact is that we just do not have any testing that has revealed the source of the smell or the odor.”

The Navy has set up a website for updates, info and resources.

twitter Email

Stripes in 7



around the web


Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up