Families sue US over jet fuel leak that contaminated Oahu water

Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Luke McCall/U.S. Navy via AP
In this Dec. 23, 2021, photo provided by the U.S. Navy, Rear Adm. John Korka, Commander, Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command (NAVFAC), and Chief of Civil Engineers, leads Navy and civilian water quality recovery experts through the tunnels of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, near Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

Four families filed a federal lawsuit against the Navy on Wednesday over the jet fuel leaks at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in Hawaii last year that contaminated a water supply in Oahu.

The lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii is the first to be filed over the leaks, according to a statement from law firms Just Well Law and Hosoda Law Group, which are representing the families.

The suit alleges that the Navy has yet to fully disclose the scope of contamination, recognize that families are still sick from the leaks or provide appropriate medical care.

In a statement to The Hill, a U.S. Navy spokesperson said the service “does not comment on ongoing litigation.”

“The Navy’s priorities are to ensure the safety and health of our people, their families, and the community members impacted by the Red Hill fuel spill, provide responses to their concerns, and ensure access to clean drinking water,” the spokesperson added. 

The Department of Defense announced in March that it would permanently shutter the facility, capping off a contentious fight between the Navy and Hawaii government officials after the state ordered the Navy to halt operations.

At issue are two separate leaks that happened on May 6, 2021, and Nov. 20, 2021, that released thousands of gallons of jet fuel into the water supply. A report from the Navy released in early July found that contamination caused by these leaks was made worse by a failure by service officials to take charge in the days and months following the leaks.  

The plaintiffs in the case — Patrick Feindt Jr., Nastasia Freeman, Jamie Simic and Ariana Wyatt — allege that they and their children were healthy until they began reporting symptoms like gastrointestinal disorders, burns, rashes, migraines and neurobehavioral changes.

They allege that they were evacuated from the contaminated homes in Oahu to live in hotels, only to be forced to move back there and get sick again. They currently do not live in their homes.

None of the families currently reside in Hawaii, but the plaintiffs allege their families still suffer negative health consequences as a result of living in homes that received contaminated water.

The plaintiffs are suing for negligence, medical negligence, failure to treat and emotional distress by the government.

“Throughout 2021, as more than 93,000 military service members, their family members, and civilians relied on the government for safe water on the island of O’ahu, the Navy harbored toxic secrets,” reads the complaint.

“As the Feindt, Freeman, Simic, and Wyatt families and too many others like them would discover, the water they drank and bathed in was dangerously contaminated. And government officials knew all along,” the complaint continues. “While the government failed to disclose the contamination as required by federal law, these families continued to ingest and immerse themselves in the toxic water.”

Updated: 7:29 p.m.

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