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Navy says detections of carcinogen in Oahu water were result of lab error

A dozen samples collected from the Navy’s drinking water system in January that detected BCEE, a chemical that can increase the risk of cancer, were reported in error by a lab, according to the Navy, which said the results have now been reclassified as non-detects.

The sampling is part of extensive testing being carried out by the Navy after jet fuel from its Red Hill tank farm contaminated its drinking water system in November. Several thousand military families have relocated to Waikiki hotels from their homes around Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam as a result of the contamination, while thousands more remain under a “do not drink” water advisory issued by the Hawaii Department of Health.

As part of that testing, the Navy has been instructed by an Interagency Drinking Water System Team (IDWST), composed of DOH, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and military to test for a wide array of potential contaminants, as well as total petroleum hydrocarbons, which is indicative of the presence of fuel.

BCEE, or bis(2-chloroethyl)ether, had been detected during samples collected between Jan. 6 – Jan. 12 from fire hydrants in eight flushing zones. The Navy resampled the locations where the BCEE was initially detected.

“The laboratory reviewed the original samples and the new samples, and did not detect BCEE in any of them,” the Navy said in a press release. “The IDWST investigation determined, in agreement with the laboratory, that the initial BCEE results were a false-positive. The laboratory implemented corrective actions. Based on these results, there is no concern for health risks from BCEE in the drinking water.”

A spokeswoman for the Hawaii Department of Health said that both DOH and the EPA were in concurrence that the detections were the result of a lab error.

BCEE is used in the manufacture of pesticides, according to the EPA, but it can also be used as a solvent, cleaner and to control rust. It’s also been used in paints and varnishes, to purify oils and gasoline, and occasionally as an additive in petroleum products. The EPA classifies it as a probable human carcinogen.

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