By Buddy Blouin
It’s undeniable at this point not to associate the U.S. military with some unfortunate water contamination incidents in its recent history. One of these happens to be the Red Hill fuel spill in Hawaii. Having occurred on May 6, 2021, during what should have been just another routine fuel movement operation, a pipeline joint failure at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility released more than 19,000 gallons of JP-5 jet fuel. Now, the Navy is looking to open a medical clinic after concerns about long-term health effects from the incident.

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The Red Hill Fuel Spill Isn’t Stopping the Navy From Opening a Clinic

Less than two years after the Red Hill fuel spill, the U.S. Navy is looking to open a local medical clinic. Acting as the interim public health emergency officer for the Defense Health Agency, Dr. Jennifer Espiritu points to the need for residents. She's noted that multiple people have stated that they have or are experiencing gastrointestinal, neurological, and respiratory issues. The clinic will be built to help with such problems. The Hawaii water crisis has led to a lawsuit from military families dealing with the exposure and sickness they alleged occurred following both spills at the Navy's Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility. Despite the military’s hesitancy to link the Red Hill fuel spill and the sickness of these residents, many still believe long-term effects on their health have occurred ever since drinking jet fuel. "People are absolutely having health care problems, that I believe, and people deserve to be seen, that I believe with all my heart. Whether the two are connected, we can't make that leap now," said Dr. Espiritu during a briefing with Military.com. "But what we want to happen is for people to come in so we can see them, find out what's happening to them, and work them out thoroughly. So if there is a connection, we can pursue it," she continued.

Long-Term Health Concerns Persist

The Red Hill Hawaii fuel leak is far from a minor incident. There were hundreds of military families complaining about odd-smelling tap water. In total, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that almost 93,000 users of the Navy’s water system were affected by the jet fuel. A survey conducted in May 2022 by the state of Hawaii and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would showcase the widespread effects of both spills affecting the area. 87% of CDC survey participants reported health symptoms from Red Hill water contamination, a staggering number considering how many came into contact. "Eighty-seven percent of over 2,000 survey participants reported at least one new or worsening health symptom following exposure to JP-5 jet fuel in the Navy water system. Thirty-seven percent sought medical care and 17 people reported being hospitalized overnight," said both the Hawaii State Department of Health and the CDC. Despite such statements, surveys, and alleged effects felt throughout the community, the military continues to say the research isn’t there to show a connection between any long-term health effects and exposure to jet fuel. "There's a limited number of studies on long-term exposure and definitely not long-term exposure in vulnerable populations like pregnant women, chronically sick people, and children," Dr. Espiritu said. "So, what was stated back in March, that we didn't expect long-term effects, is true," she continued. But now, the Defense Health Agency is opening its clinic to help those affected by the Red Hill Hawaii incident. Military members from each service and their families will receive care from healthcare workers of all branches.

Is a Clinic Enough for the Red Hill Fuel Spill?

Even with the Navy building a new clinic, it would be understandable if residents of the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam community continue to have skepticism. Lawsuits, surveys, and studies are sure to persist, but at the heart of it all are those serving our country and their families. Hopefully, the Red Hill fuel spill is a learning experience for the Navy, and proper measures, as well as restitution, are provided should they be found to be at fault.

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The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement. | Image: U.S. Navy




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