Hawaii Residents Report Nervous System Damage, Stomach Problems, After Drinking Jet Fuel-Contaminated Water in Oahu: CDC

Four out of ten residents sought medical attention after consuming the jet fuel-contaminated water, a survey found.

More than 87% of Oahu residents may be suffering adverse health symptoms after drinking water contaminated with jet fuel from a Navy leak, according to a new report by federal health officials.

The jet fuel leak occurred on the Hawaii island in November 2021, impacting nearly 10,000 households in the area, according to data from a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report issued this week.

The report indicates nearly 40% of residents said they sought medical attention after drinking the tainted water, and 17 people were hospitalized overnight.

The Hawaii Department of Health (HDOH) received reports from Oahu residents of a fuel-like odor coming from their drinking water in November 2021. It was later determined the odor was related to a November 20, 2021, petroleum leak involving jet fuel at the Navy’s Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.

The leak contaminated the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam water system, which supplies nearly 10,000 civilian and military households with water, as well as schools and workplaces, more than 93,000 residents overall.

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A drinking water advisory was issued on November 30, 2021, and was not lifted until March 18, 2022. Residents were offered temporary housing in hotels and alternative drinking water.

The HDOH requested epidemiological assistance from the CDC to assess the civilian and military impact. The CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry conducted a voluntary survey to assess the impact. Roughly 2,200 participants submitted surveys from about 1,400 households of more than 9,600 affected households.

Overall, 87% said they suffered new or worsened symptoms from the contaminated drinking water. More than three-quarters of residents said the symptoms lasted more than 30 days.

Among those who suffered symptoms, 62% said they experienced nervous system symptoms, 58% suffered gastrointestinal symptoms, 58% suffered skin problems,
47% had ear, nose and throat symptoms, 46% suffered mental health symptoms, 42% suffered problems with their eyes, and 31% had respiratory problems.

Residents reported suffering various symptoms including seizures, headaches, dizziness, coughing, wheezing, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, burning in the eyes, nose and throat, nose bleeds, and skin rashes and blisters.

More than half of the residents said they knew the water was contaminated because it tasted or smelled bad. Roughly 80% of residents said they were exposed to the contamination after using the water for oral hygiene purposes, like brushing teeth or gargling, 72% drank the water, 71% used it to cook with.

The large majority of residents, 93%, switched to an alternative water source after learning about the contamination.

Because the survey was voluntary and only captured the responses of about 1,400 households of the more than 10,000 households affected, or a fraction of the nearly 93,000 residents affected by the leak, the survey does not capture the full scope of the impact the leak may have had on local residents.

The Navy’s Red Hill fuel facility, the source of the jet fuel leaks, is now in the process of being shut down and planning is underway to determine how the remaining fuel will be emptied.

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