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Hawaii officials advise all users of Navy’s water system to avoid using water for drinking, cooking, or oral hygiene

Sophie Cocke
                                A tunnel inside of the Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility, seen in 2018.
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A tunnel inside of the Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility, seen in 2018.

UPDATE: 9:25 p.m.

Navy officials say that they are working on providing sources of drinking water for Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam area residents who are affected by today’s state Health Department advisory to not use water that comes from the Navy’s water system.

The Navy said it has “not detected petroleum constituents in initial testing” after many residents of Aliamanu Military Reservation, Red Hill and military housing reported a strong fuel smell coming from their taps.

“The Navy’s current guidance for Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam military housing residents is to report any chemical or petroleum odors associated with their potable water,” the statement released this evening said. “If chemical or petroleum odors are present, recommend avoiding ingestion as a cautionary measure. The Navy is moving forward to provide sources of drinking water to affected residents and to sample affected locations.”

They said more stringent tests are being conducted by independent testing laboratories on the mainland to ensure that the water meets Environmental Protection Agency standards. Results from those tests are expected later this week.

Navy officials said its investigation in ongoing and that they will update residents.

6:48 p.m.

The Hawaii Department of Health is advising “all Navy water system users avoid using the water for drinking, cooking, or oral hygiene,” after residents in the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam area complained of a fuel or gasoline-like odor in their water.

In the advisory issued after 6 p.m., health officials said, “Navy water system users who detect a fuel odor from their water should avoid using the water for drinking, cooking, bathing, dish washing, laundry or oral hygiene (brushing teeth, etc.)”

The advisory covers Aliamanu Military Reservation, Red Hill and Nimitz Elementary schools, and military housing. All complaints are from users of the Navy’s water system, officials said.

”As a regulated water system under the jurisdiction of the DOH’s Safe Drinking Water Branch, the Navy is responsible for maintaining a safe and reliable source of drinking water to its customers and provide alternative sources of drinking water for human consumptive uses as deemed necessary,” the advisory says.

Health officials said they are working with the Navy to “investigate the extent and source of the odor complaints, including performing sampling and analyses for potential petroleum components. DOH’s initial screening results received this afternoon were inconclusive and did not detect a contaminant.”

They said samples have been sent to a drinking water testing laboratory in California, and “more quantifiable, contaminant-specific results are expected by the end of the week.”

Until those results are received, the Health Department recommends that all users in the area avoid using the water for drinking, cooking, or oral hygiene.

Affected residents are asked to contact the Navy at 808- 448-2570 and the Health Department at SDWB@doh.hawaii.gov to report similar complaints. Officials said residents should provide their name, phone number, affected address and any details relating to the smell/taste or color in the drinking water.

3:04 p.m.

Nimitz Elementary and Red Hill Elementary have also reported a chemical-like odor coming from their water lines, the Hawaii Department of Education confirmed this afternoon.

Sinks at the schools have been taped off and bottled water has been brought in, said DOE spokeswoman Nanea Kalani.

Kalani said the schools have also adjusted their menus to serve foods that don’t require water during preparation, such as frozen foods.

There are no current plans to close the schools, she said.


Holy Family Catholic Academy, which enrolls students in pre-school to eighth grade, canceled school this morning after hearing news reports about a chemical smell in the area’s drinking water that school officials subsequently detected on campus.

The school is located near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, where Navy officials on Sunday said they were investigating a “chemical smell” that was reported by residents in military housing.

Celeste Akiu, the principal of Holy Family Catholic Academy, said that she made the decision at 7:45 a.m. and that all students have been picked up.

Akiu said that the school, which includes a mix of military and non-military families, had not been contacted by the Navy or the Department of Health as of about noon today about the odor and that the school took the initiative to close down.

“The safety of our children is one of our top priorities and we need to make informed decisions based on what we do know and that is what happened this morning,” she said. “We felt that we needed to keep the kids safe. So we are waiting, hopefully, for updates to determine our next steps for the children.”

Akiu said that the school gets its water from the Navy.

The Navy said Sunday evening that it was investigating reports of a “chemical smell” in drinking water at several homes at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam. Residents of military housing reported the smell on Sunday evening, according to a Navy press release.

The Navy said Sunday night that there was no “immediate indication” that the water is not safe and it is currently testing the water.

“Navy engineers visited several homes of families who reported the smell and also immediately went to Navy’s drinking water wells to investigate,” according to the press release. “There was no smell or sign of fuel or chemicals in the water at the Navy’s water wells and water tanks. Specialists took samples of water at several locations for testing.”

The Navy said that it is working with the Hawaii Department of Health on testing the water samples and will update residents.

The Star-Advertiser requested additional information from DOH and the Navy this morning and is waiting to hear back.

Lynette Hegeman, the vice president of marketing and communications for Hunt Military Communities, the management company for military housing in the area, said that the company had received a number of calls from residents on Sunday reporting an odor in their drinking water.

The company, which manages Ohana Family Housing, said that reports had come in from the neighborhoods of Moanalua, Halsey, Radford and Catlin.

Hegeman said that the Navy had advised the management company that there were no indications that the water was not safe.

“We have been advised to tell residents that it is safe to drink and to bathe in,” she said.

But social media has erupted with reports from residents that their tap water and sprinklers smell like fuel. One resident posted that her water in Moanalua Terrace “smells like a gas station.”

It’s not clear if there is any connection between the reports of potential water contamination and the Navy’s Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility. Environmental regulators have been concerned for years that the fuel tanks could contaminate area drinking water.

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