A Navy contractor collects water samples from a granular activated carbon filter at Red Hill well on the outskirts of Honolulu, April 4, 2022.

A Navy contractor collects water samples from a granular activated carbon filter at Red Hill well on the outskirts of Honolulu, April 4, 2022. (Mar’Queon A. D. Tramble/U.S. Navy)

HONOLULU — The trauma of exposure to petroleum-contaminated tap water left a Navy spouse with neurological injuries, anxiety and fear of water, a psychiatrist testified in Hawaii federal court Wednesday.

Dr. Steven Storage said Nastasia Freeman, one of 17 plaintiffs in Feindt vs. United States, suffered health problems that resulted from consuming water tainted by jet fuel in November 2021.

Traumatic events impede the flow of blood into the front part of the brain, which manages high-level functions such as planning, organizing and controlling responses, Storage said on the stand.

The group of plaintiffs, which does not include any uniformed service members, claims to have suffered medical, emotional and financial injuries from a jet fuel spill that contaminated the Navy’s water system for military housing.

A spill at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility seeped into the groundwater and into one of the wells that served roughly 93,000 residents on and near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

More than 7,500 additional plaintiffs have joined several other lawsuits also seeking compensation.

U.S. District Court Judge Leslie Kobayashi is hearing the case without a jury.

Storage, who practices at Amen Clinics in Encino, Calif., began seeing Freeman in September 2022. She complained of dizziness, drowsiness, numbness, muscle spasms, tremors, brain fog and an impaired memory and slurred speech, he wrote in a declaration filed on behalf of the plaintiffs.

Freeman had moved to Hawaii in May 2021 with her husband, Koda Freeman, a Navy lieutenant, and their three children, according to a declaration she filed with the court.

The family moved into Aliamanu Military Reservation, one of the military housing communities closest to the Red Hill well.

Their problems with tainted water began on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 25, 2021, a meal that sickened several guests. Within a few days the Freeman children were vomiting and suffering from diarrhea.

For much of her life, Freeman had a condition called temporal lobe epilepsy, but her seizures had been dormant for about two years.

With exposure to the tainted water, the seizures returned, Freeman states in the declaration. The family relocated to California in February 2022.

Among the tests and examinations performed under Storage’s care, Freeman was given a SPECT brain scan, which detects altered blood flow and indicates which parts of the brain are most and least active. It is used to diagnose conditions such as seizure, Parkinson’s, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury.

“While there is one irregularity in Nastasia’s SPECT scan that can be attributed to her seizure disorder, the other indications of brain injury, taken with the temporal nature of her symptoms, her exposure to contaminated water, and her medical history, indicate injury to the brain from toxic exposure and the resulting trauma,” Storage wrote in his declaration.

On the stand, Storage said the circumstances of contaminated water coming into Freeman’s home would be particularly traumatic.

“Home is supposed to be a safe place,” he testified. “We are retreating from the world there. Our guard is down. It becomes much more traumatic because it is unexpected.

“Home no longer represents a place where you can live comfortably.”

Freeman discussed her fear of water with Storage, he said.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Kristina Baehr, asked the psychiatrist if he thought that fear would be long lasting.

“I do,” Storage said. “It is very, very hard to shake a fear like that. You will second guess water wherever you are.”

Under cross examination by Justice Department attorney Eric Rey, Storage acknowledged that Freeman had not been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The government has acknowledged responsibility for the water contamination from the fuel leak but holds that the Navy’s quick response prevented widespread and lengthy exposure by residents of the housing areas.

The lines of cross examination by government attorneys since the trial began Monday suggests their defense will assert that the cause of maladies experienced by residents was largely due to preexisting conditions and situational stress.

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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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