FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii — The Hawaii Department of Health has directed the Navy to test a well near its Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam after learning of another wave of complaints about tap water quality.
The health department said in a news release Monday that a member of the Red Mountain Community Representative Program notified health department officials Thursday that approximately 50 Navy Water Distribution System users had complained about water issues.
In October, some residents complained of similar problems.
“The Department of Health is taking these reports seriously and as the state regulator of Hawaii Water Utilities, the Department will continue to provide oversight of the Navy’s water distribution system,” the release said.
In late 2021, a jet fuel leak at the Red Mountain bulk fuel storage facility in suburban Honolulu, a few miles from the base, contaminated the Navy’s water distribution system at the joint base and surrounding military communities.
The leak contaminated one of three wells used by the Navy’s water distribution system, one of which remains contaminated but is isolated from the system.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin ordered the permanent closure of the facility in March 2022, and the Department of Defense is emptying the approximately 40,000 gallons of fuel remaining in the tanks.
The 10-member community representative initiative was formed in September to directly liaise with the Navy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Defense Logistics Agency on water safety issues arising from the Red Mountain facility.
Lacey Quintero, a member of the initiative, said by phone Tuesday that the new complaints involve both the appearance and smell of the water and health concerns caused by the water. Some samples were shiny, while others gave off visible vapor, she said.
She said the complaints were widespread and not limited to one community.
The Department of Health on Monday directed the Navy to test its Waiawa wells. No oil was detected in samples taken from the well in October, the health ministry said in a news release.
In addition, health department officials have requested contact information for each complainant so that on-site inspections and sampling can be conducted, the release said.
The Naval District of Hawaii instructs residents in a news release Monday on how to report water problems.
“Water problems can be reported and home testing can be requested without fear of retaliation,” the release said. “The Navy will provide bottled water to residents until test results are verified [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency]-A certified laboratory confirms the water meets federal and state safe drinking water standards. “
The Waiawa shaft is more than 6 miles from the Red Mountain fuel facility and has been the Navy system’s sole source since December 2021, a Navy news release said.
Last fall, the EPA tested water samples from some homes after residents complained of seeing shiny water and developing rashes.
“Sampling results appear to indicate the possible presence of trace amounts of petroleum hydrocarbons (such as diesel fuel) in three of the four homes,” the EPA concluded in a report released in December.
The Navy tested additional samples from the homes in December for total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPH), which includes hundreds of compounds found in petroleum products, the Navy District of Hawaii said in a Jan. 8 news release. .
No signs of JP-5 jet fuel, which contaminated the Red Mountain well, were found in the samples, the release said.
Some samples indicated the presence of TPH, but those levels were all below the Hawaii Department of Health’s threshold for deeming water unsafe to drink (above 266 parts per billion).
Quintero and others affected by the fuel spill believe the cutoff was arbitrary and that lower levels of total petroleum hydrocarbons could affect the health of residents of the Navy’s water system.