Army and Navy officials addressed the water contamination concerns of affected residents during a town hall meeting tonight at the Aliamanu Military Reservation Chapel.
The Hawaii Department of Health today detected petroleum product in water samples taken at Red Hill Elementary School, which is connected to the Navy’s water supply system.
The samples were collected on Tuesday and analyzed by a lab at the University of Hawaii. The results are preliminary and more information about the quantity, or exact product, that was detected was not available.
Samples have been sent to Eurofins Scientific in California for further analysis, according to a department news release issued this afternoon.
Hawaii Department of Education Interim Superintendent Keith Hayashi said in a statement this afternoon that Red Hill Elementary School remains open with safety protocols in place.
Earlier this week, the school taped off sinks and modified breakfast and lunch menus to include foods that can be prepared without water such as frozen foods. Hayashi said that the school has also arranged for dishwashing at alternative locations and is purchasing bottled water and 5-gallon jugs for hand washing, dishwashing and drinking water purposes.
“We’ve been informed of the preliminary results and continue to work closely with the Department of Health and U.S. Navy to monitor and respond to the ongoing situation,” said Hayashi.
DOH officials say they have received more than 175 complaints from residents, primarily military families, who are connected to the Navy’s water system.
The Navy and DOH have been flooded with calls since Sunday from residents who receive their water from the Navy’s Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam water system. Residents have complained about an odor of fuel or chemicals coming from their tap water, and some people worry the water is making them sick. They’ve reported symptoms such as headaches, stomach pains and skin rashes.
In addition to Red Hill Elementary, officials at Holy Family Catholic Academy and Nimitz Elementary also detected odors in their water.
Water testing by both the DOH and the Navy is ongoing.
DOH recommends that people connected to the Navy’s water system not use it for drinking, cooking or brushing their teeth. If a fuel-like odor is detected, the department also recommends that the water not be used for bathing, dish-washing and laundry.
Health officials say complaints continue to be associated with the Navy’s water system and not that of the Honolulu Board of Water Supply, which serves the majority of Oahu.
Diana Felton, the state toxicologist for DOH, said that the health effects of drinking or having skin contact with water contaminated with petroleum products are akin to the symptoms that residents have been complaining of. Health effects can include itchy skin and rashes, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness and headaches. In more extreme cases, Felton said it can also cause respiratory symptoms, such as shortness of breathe and wheezing, if inhaled or aspirated.
It’s not yet possible to ascertain the full risk because the type of petroleum constituent has not yet been identified, said Felton.
“We don’t know exactly what we are dealing with, so we can’t say exactly what the risks are,” she said.
Felton said that once the contaminated water is no longer being used, symptoms typically disappear quickly.