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Hawaiian water is contaminated: Skepticism remains after US Navy report

HONOLULU –

Lauren Wright continues to suffer from running water from the faucets in her family’s US Navy home in Hawaii, saying she doesn’t believe it’s safe.

Wright, her sailor husband and their three children aged 8 to 17 were among thousands who fell ill late last year after fuel from military storage tanks leaked into Pearl Harbor’s tap water.

The family has returned to military housing after months in hotels in Honolulu, but they continue to take safety measures including short, five-minute showers. They don’t drink their tap water or cook with it.

A Navy investigation released Thursday blamed the fuel leak and subsequent water crisis on poor management and human error. Some Hawaiians, including Native Hawaiians, officials and military families, said the report did not help restore confidence in the Navy.

“I at least hope for some remorse to the families and everyone involved,” Wright said.

She said the ordeal has changed her view of the military from a decade ago when her husband first joined.

“I’m the proud Navy spouse, you know, stickers and t-shirts,” she said. “I feel like the Navy has failed at what they promised every member of the service. They’ve failed at a lot of things. And I’m not proud of that.”

Kamanamaikalani Beamer, a former commissioner of the Water Resources Commission, said it is difficult to trust the Navy in part because Hawaiians and officials have for years questioned the safety of the giant fuel tanks located on an important aquifer since the Second World War. Management.

“Putting out a report saying they are lying to us is not a step towards building trust,” he said. “Reducing fuel and taking the tanks out permanently, setting aside funds to fix water systems across Oahu and replant our forests – as I see steps like that happening – it’s a tangible step.” to rebuild trust.”

Some native Hawaiians said the report only fueled mistrust in the military dating back to at least 1893, when a group of American businessmen, with the support of the US Marines, overthrew the kingdom. Hawaii. More recently, Native Hawaiians have fought to thwart bombing targets on Kahoolawe Island and in the Makua Valley west of Oahu.

Kalehua Krug, with Ka’ohewai, a cultural organization that advocates for a clean aquifer for Oahu, said: “There is no evidence for me to believe them. “They did nothing but lie for generations.”

The Department of Defense recognizes that water issues “have damaged trust between the Department and the people of Hawaii, including Native Hawaiians – and the Department of Defense is committed to rebuilding that trust,” said Gordon Trowbridge, acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, said in a statement.

The investigative report released on Thursday listed a series of violations since May 6, 2021, when an operator error caused a pipeline to burst and 21,000 gallons (80,000 liters) of fuel to spill when it being transferred between tanks. Most of the fuel spilled onto the fire line and lay there for six months, causing the line to sag. A truck hit this curve on November 20, releasing 20,000 gallons (75,700 liters) of fuel.

The report said officials defaulted to assuming the best of what was happening when the spill occurred, rather than the worst, and this contributed to their disregard for the severity of the spill. importance of the situation.

The spill contaminated the Navy’s water system. Fuel does not enter Honolulu’s water supply. But fears that oil could move through the aquifer and into the city’s wells prompted the Honolulu Water Board in December to shut down a main well serving about 400,000 people. The agency has asked residents to conserve water because of the weather and unusually dry weather.

The tanks continue to pose a threat to Oahu’s drinking water as they contain fuel, said Ernest Lau, the water company’s manager and chief engineer.

The report said it would take more than two years to destroy the facility, Lau said Friday.

“The reality is they built this massive facility in three years, so they couldn’t figure out how to do all the work needed in less than two and a half years… I think it has can be done,” he said. Navy to consider shortening the timeline.

This week, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin “directed the creation of a Joint Task Force commanded by a senior Navy admiral solely for the rapid de-storming effort, who will report to him as soon as possible.” through the command of the US Indo-Pacific Command, to monitor the de-storming of Red Hill as quickly as possible when safety permits,” said Trowbridge. “The Department recognizes that what we say is far less important than what we do, which is why the top leadership of the Department is focused on this effort.”

Kristina Baehr, an attorney representing more than 100 military and civilian families who have filed complaints against the Navy, said it was particularly troubling to read in the report about the prevalence of errors.

“This is a national security issue,” she said, noting that many of her clients are still experiencing the effects of tainted water. “And our military families and communities may not be ready for duty if the government makes them sick.”

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