The Navy said today there should be no long-term health effects associated with exposure to the petroleum-contaminated tap water currently affecting a large number of military households on Oahu.
Navy officials appearing at a virtual town hall meeting also said that while the source of the contamination is being investigated, one of the leading suspects is a 14,000-gallon fuel leak in late November from the Navy’s Red Hill underground fuel facility, which is located over a major underground source of water and has a long rap sheet of leaks over its 80-year existence.
Since the first reports about two weeks ago of tap water in the military communities near Pearl Harbor smelling of fuel, residents have described a number of health issues including nausea, diarrhea and hives. The Navy and Army have been providing potable water to the affected families, medical evaluations and even arranging for temporary lodging for some.
“Throughout the community, we’ve been seeing concern about exposure,” said Capt. Michael McGinnis, a U.S. Pacific Fleet surgeon, during the town hall meeting. “The good news is this is self-limited. If you have persistent symptoms, absolutely come in and get evaluated, but there should be no lasting effects from that short-term exposure.”
Rear Adm. Blake Converse was unable to provide a clear answer to a question about when the water would be safe to use again.
“We don’t have an answer today on a realistic timeline,” Converse said. “We have commenced flushing, we have gotten the expertise collected, and we are developing that plan.”
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In a followup statement today to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the Navy said that long-term health problems generally arise after long exposure or exposure to high concentrations of petroleum products.
“Long-term effects to health from exposure to petroleum-contaminated drinking water are not clear,” the statement said. “Most of the available information on long-term health effects of petroleum-based products involve exposure to undiluted or highly concentrated petroleum products, or prolonged or repeated exposures.”
In a statement to the Star-Advertiser today, the state Department of Health it cannot “fully characterize” the risks of exposure, including to groups of people who might be more susceptible, because the petroleum products in the water haven’t yet been identified.
“However, based on the current information, we do not expect long-term health impacts from these exposures to petroleum contaminated drinking water,” the statement said. “We will continue to evaluate potential hazards and refine this assessment as more information is gathered.”
The same can be expected for pets that have been exposed.
“Right now we’re seeing gastrointestinal signs, like decreased appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, but we wouldn’t expect to see respiratory distress or death,” said Dr. Julie Pearson of PetVet Animal Hospital, which has been caring for some of the pets sickened by the contaminated water.
She said she doesn’t expect there will be any long-term health effects because the petroleum is diluted in the water supply.