The Navy will open a medical clinic in Pearl Harbor for personnel with health problems believed to be related to fuel leaks last year at the Red Hill bulk fuel storage facility in Hawaii that contaminated Oahu’s water supply, sickening thousands.
“We are establishing the Red Hill Clinic, a safe place where our dedicated care teams will work with our patients to document what is happening to them and determine the best course forward for them and their families’ healthy care,” Jennifer Espiritu, temporary health emergency officer with the Defense Health Agency, told reporters Monday. .
Espiritu said the clinic will go to an as yet unannounced military treatment facility on the island and will be staffed by health care workers from the Navy, Army and Air Force. It was planned after residents reported skin, neurological, gastrointestinal and respiratory problems following the infusion.
The health issues are believed to have stemmed from the May-November 2021 fuel spill at Red Hill that released about 20,000 gallons of fuel, contaminating a nearby well used by 93,000 people including Hawaii military families, sickening nearly 6,000 people.
The leak prompted the Pentagon to order the facility shut down in March with the goal of completely removing the fuel and shutting it down by June 2024.
Since then, more than 100 people harmed by water pollution have joined in a lawsuit against the Navy. In the lawsuit, which was originally filed in August in the US District Court for the District of Hawaii, the plaintiffs claimed they suffered physically, emotionally and financially because of the fuel leak. Those in the lawsuit believe there are long-term health effects from drinking water contaminated with the fuel.
In the days and weeks after the spill, people living on the base reported nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, and skin problems, with some having to leave their homes and move to hotels.
However, the US military has not confirmed a link between the fuel leak and any diseases.
“People have absolutely problems with health care, I think, and people deserve to be seen, and I believe with all my heart,” Espiritu said. “Whether the two are connected, I can’t — we can’t make that leap right now. But what we want to happen is for people to come in so we can see them, find out what’s going on with them, and work with them well so that if there’s a connection, we can follow it up.”
Espiritu allowed that the military did not monitor those who claimed to have health problems after the Red Hill leak, but made clear that the health effects the agency would be looking for usually take decades to surface, such as cancer or certain neurological conditions.
There’s also very little research on how exposure to the fuel affects an individual’s long-term health, Espiritu said.
“There are a limited number of studies on long-term exposure and certainly not long-term exposure in vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, the chronically ill, and children,” she said. “So, what was said in March, that we weren’t expecting long-term effects, right.”
Admiral Stephen Barnett, the commander of the Hawaii Naval District, acknowledged that the past year has been “very difficult for our military families and the people of Hawaii,” because of the leaks.
“I acknowledge their anger, frustration, disappointment and mistrust. I hear them loud and clear,” Barnett said Monday alongside Espiritu.