Hawaii Democrat raises alarms over water contamination near Pearl Harbor

Hawaii Rep. Kai Kahele (D) raised alarms in a House Armed Services Committee hearing Thursday over water contamination near Pearl Harbor.

The Hawaii State Department of Health on Wednesday found petroleum products in water from the Navy’s water system that is used by 93,000 people, The Associated Press reported.

Residents suspect the contamination is from the Navy’s Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage facility and have called for it to be shut down, while the Navy says the tanks are needed for their Pacific operations, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

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In the hearing, Kahele detailed panicked messages and emails he has received from residents, with one woman going to the hospital and being diagnosed with chemical burns in her mouth after drinking her tap water for a week while unaware of the petroleum.

Another woman emailed the representative panicking, saying she was six months pregnant and had been drinking the water. Local reports show many people going to the hospital for multiple ailments believed to be related to the contamination. 

“We are committed to find the facts, get the root causes and make the appropriate corrections to anything we discover,” Ricky Williamson, the Navy's deputy chief of naval operations for fleet readiness and logistics, said in the hearing.

Residents connected to the Navy’s water system, mostly part of military families, have been told not to use the water to drink, do dishes or wash laundry. The Navy and state health department are investigating the issue. 

“Military families are members of our community,” Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) said in an email to the Star-Advertiser. “I’m concerned for the health and safety of those living in the affected areas and understand their need for timely and accurate information. I’ve urged the Navy to conduct a thorough investigation immediately and to take every precaution necessary to keep the community safe. I’ve also ordered the State Department of Health to continue independent testing and to be prepared to take immediate action to protect our drinking water.”