Honolulu shut down its largest water source on Oahu Thursday night following reported contamination in the potable water system for Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.
The city’s Board of Water Supply (BWS) shut down the Halawa Shaft after the Navy said Thursday it found “a likely source of the contamination,” which is believed to be petroleum chemicals initiated from the Red Hill well, the Navy confirmed in a virtual town hall meeting.
The Navy added that it has seen concerns from people in the affected neighborhoods who were exposed to the contaminated water and reported symptoms including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, and skin related concerns.
The Navy isolated the Red Hill well last Sunday and sent samples out for testing Monday, it said.
“The results of the Red Hill sample showed petroleum hydrocarbons roughly four to ten times below the Hawaii Department of Health Environmental Action Level (EAL). The Navy had a separate test that confirmed vapors, which is another indication of petroleum hydrocarbons,” it said in a statement.
“The Navy is developing a plan to restore the potable water system to EPA standards, identify how this contaminant got in the well, and fix the well,” the statement continued.
On Tuesday, when BWS heard about the shutdown of the well, it reduced pumping capacity by 50%, it said in a news release.
“We are deeply concerned that we were not notified immediately by the Navy regarding the shutdown of their Red Hill water source,” BWS Manager and Chief Engineer Ernest Lau said in a statement, adding that the Halawa shaft was shut down in an “abundance of caution.”
“We have data that shows when they stop pumping at Red Hill, water starts moving in the direction of our Halawa Shaft due to our pumping,” Lau said.
The Halawa shaft pumps 10 million gallons of water per day and delivers water to 20% of Honolulu’s water supply, the BWS said.
“The Commander, Navy Region Hawaii, has determined Temporary Lodging (TLA) is necessary for service members and their dependents, and civilians living in housing affected by the current water-related health or safety concerns,” the Navy said in its latest update.
The authorization is limited to active-duty service members and civilian employees living in housing who self-certify they are affected, according to the Navy.
Various fitness centers and pools have been made available for residents in affected neighborhoods to shower.
“It is clear that the Navy has failed to manage its fuel operations, including Red Hill, to a standard that protects the health and safety of the people of Hawaii,” the state’s Congressional Delegation said in a statement.
The delegation asked that the Navy “immediately” identify, isolate and fix the problems that allowed the contamination to happen. They also urged the governor to request assistance from the Biden Administration.
“That includes a wholesale change in an organizational culture that has allowed too many accidents to occur without any accountability,” the statement continued. “We urge the governor to request that the president declare an emergency as soon as possible so that the state has access to every resource available to make families whole and protect the people of Hawaii from future leaks.”
U.S. Pacific Fleet Deputy Commander Rear Adm. Blake Converse said during the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam virtual town hall meeting that the health and welfare “of the residents of our housing and the state of Hawaii and their citizens” is a priority.
“Our second priority is to identify, isolate and clean up the potable water system that the military provides and restore public confidence in that system to get you back to normalcy, back into your homes, and drinking clean water,” Converse added.
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