After disturbing findings, UH task force calls for more testing of Navy tap water

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) — Scientists at the University of Hawaii are finally talking about their data — showing what appears to be jet fuel still in Navy tap water — and calling for more testing.

They also say it might be “safe” not to drink the tap water until more results are returned.

HU results are published on a dashboard on RedHillData.org.

Since March, scientists have discovered:

  • Seven positive fuel detections at Hickam;
  • Two at Ford Island;
  • Two at Pearl City Peninsula;
  • and two in the Red Hill Mauka neighborhood closest to the Red Hill fuel tanks.

The UH Red Hill Task Force is made up of 80 scientists and experts.

They used a rapid screening method called fluorescence spectroscopy and found detections consistent with JP-5 or jet fuel in a small percentage of Navy tap water samples.

The data, however, is not definitive.

“Just because we have a positive detection in our screening doesn’t mean there’s kerosene in the water,” said Craig Nelson of the UH Red Hill task force.

“When we get a positive detection, absolutely if I had it in my house, I would push for a proper test and not drink the water until then,” he added.

The scientists say the levels are below EPA action levels and their methods are not EPA-certified.

“I think it’s incumbent on people if they’ve had a detection in their tap water to go out and do some more testing,” said Tom Giambelluca, director of the UH Manoa Water Resources Research Center.

“In the meantime, it’s probably safe not to drink the water.”

Donn Viviani, also a member of the task force, said “something is happening.”

“I talk to people who don’t shower in water,” he added.

The Navy, State Health Department, and EPA say Navy water is safe to drink.

“The EPA, DOH and Navy formed an Interagency Drinking Water Team that determined the water to be safe on March 18, 2022,” the Navy Region of Hawaii said in a statement.

“There was no detection of JP-5 contamination in the system,” he added.

The Department of Health adds that the fluorescence “can be caused by a variety of substances, including biofilms commonly found in household plumbing.”

“DOH does not use the fluorescence method for testing due to the same possibility of interference or false positives that UH has identified,” the state said.

Attorney Kristina Baehr represents 150 families who have filed health claims against the Navy.

About a third still live in military housing.

“They’re stuck in houses that aren’t safe, so I asked the Navy to move people out of the waterline,” she said.

The Navy says residents should try to resolve housing issues with a community manager.

Meanwhile, UH data showed no detections in the consumer water system.

BWS chief engineer Ernie Lau told HNN he could not comment on the UH data because he was unfamiliar with screening methods.

Copyright 2022 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.

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