By Meaghan MacDougall
In 2021, Hawaii drinking water was sadly poisoned because of a mistake made by the United States Navy stationed in Pearl Harbor. There has been an ongoing investigation, the results of which were released on Thursday, June 30, 2022. It concluded that human error was the reason fuel was released into the Pearl Harbor tap water. Unfortunately, as a result of the leak, there were many people in Hawaii who were poisoned by the water and forced out of their homes.

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Why Is Hawaii’s Drinking Water Contaminated?

In November of 2021, fuel leaked into the water of Pearl Harbor, causing the water to become contaminated. Since this happened, there has been an ongoing investigation to determine exactly how this took place. It is the first detailed account of how a massive World War II-era military-run tank farm, the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in the hills above Pearl Harbor, leaked fuel into the water supply for houses and businesses in the area. In April, the military finally agreed to drain the tanks and fully close down the Red Hill facility. The Defense Department recently let the Department of Health know that the latest they could finish defueling the tanks would be December of 2024, with some estimates placing completion in late 2023. The results of the investigation reported many mistakes that were made on May 6, 2021. An operator error caused a pipe to rupture, allowing 21,000 gallons of fuel to spill when transferring fuel between tanks. This fuel sat for six months in a fire suppression line, which caused it to sag. Once a cart rammed into the line, 20,000 gallons of fuel spilled into the Hawaii drinking water. As a result, the United States Navy poisoned Hawaii water because they did not have the right equipment to stop the spill in the affected area.

Is Hawaii Water Safe To Drink?

Within a few weeks of the Navy poisoning water in Hawaii, there were military families who began to complain about health problems. About 4,000 families had to be moved off of the Pearl Harbor military base and into hotels. Approximately 6,000 people were experiencing all different kinds of symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting, headaches, rashes, skin peeling, and much more. Families realized the water was contaminated and was the reason they were getting sick in Hawaii. The residents were asked to fill out a survey for the Hawaii Department of Health to better understand their experiences. About 62% of people reported that they had problems regarding the nervous system, and 58% reported having headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and skin rashes. Other issues that were commonly reported were nausea, a burning throat, and burning or irritated eyes. Many families are still in temporary housing as the Navy attempts to clean out the water sources. But is Hawaii tap water safe to drink? Yes, there are locations in Hawaii that have clean tap water on the island of Oahu and in Waikiki, but you’re better off safe than sorry and not drinking the tap water on base.

What’s Being Done?

In regards to the Navy poisoning Hawaii drinking water, they also poisoned their own water source. So, the EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) has partnered with the Navy, Army, and the Hawaii Department of Health to restore safe Hawaii drinking water. The EPA began restoring the water in December of 2021, and it was completed in March of 2022. The EPA now has numerous staff members and contractors working in Oahu to provide support; they are also active in the Interagency Drinking Water System Team. As of now, for the next two years, the United States Navy is required to test the Hawaii drinking water within the area of the spill as well as continue to clean up the Red Hill drinking water well and its impacted groundwater.

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