The Hawaii Department of Health ordered the U.S. Navy to stop all operations at a Pearl Harbor facility in an emergency order Sunday after reports of petroleum contaminating the water supply.
The Navy received complaints last week from 680 households that the tap water at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility smelled and tasted like fuel. After the most recent testing, dangerous levels of petroleum were found in the water system at the joint Pearl Harbor-Hickam Naval and Army base.
"Hawaii's wellbeing and the safety of our residents, including military families, must come first," Gov. David Ige said in a tweet. "We cannot have national security without ensuring public health and safety. There are still important questions that need to be answered and the Order will help get there."
NAVY DETECTS PETROLEUM IN PEARL HARBOR TAP WATER AFTER HUNDREDS COMPLAIN
The Hawaii Department of Health ordered the 93,000 people affected to stop drinking the water and to stop using it for cooking, oral hygiene, or showers. The Navy, Marines, and Army have been working together to provide alternative water for necessary purposes.
The issue arose on Nov. 20, when the Navy said there was a mix of fuel and water in a nearby tank farm, but officials did not believe the fuel leaked into the environment and that the water remained safe to drink. However, on Nov. 24, during a routine testing of a local well, trace amounts of oil were found.
While another set of samples on Nov. 29 found no petroleum in the water supply, people began complaining that their water smelled like fuel, and on Friday, the Hawaii Department of Health confirmed there was petroleum in the water.
Local politicians and residents of the island criticized the Navy's handling of the contamination.
"[The Navy is] paralyzed in finding a solution to this problem," Hawaii state Sen. Glenn Wakai said at a news conference last week. "Last night, they were saying this is a natural disaster and that’s how we should look at this. This is a man-made disaster. The Navy really has to pick up the pace in which it addresses solutions.”
The island's largest water source was also shut down to avoid further contamination, according to the Board of Water Supply.
"We are deeply concerned that we were not notified immediately by the Navy regarding the shut down of their Red Hill water source," Manager and Chief Engineer Ernest Lau said in the press release. "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. In an abundance of caution, we must shut down Halawa Shaft until further notice."
The Hawaii Department of Health ordered the Navy to install a drinking water treatment system at the contaminated source and to submit a work plan to assess the system. The Navy will need to defuel the underground storage tanks at the Red Hill Well within 30 days of completing corrective action, according to ABC News.
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Common symptoms among people who drank the contaminated water included headaches, dizziness, stomach pain, diarrhea, and nausea. Those experiencing severe symptoms were encouraged to seek medical treatment.
The Navy said it is looking into how the contamination occurred and is working to bring the water system back to Environmental Protection Agency standards.