Over 2,000 Residents File Water Contamination Lawsuit Over Red Hill Fuel Storage Leaks

The lawsuit claims the Navy failed to properly notify residents near O'ahu, Hawaii that their water may be contaminated with petroleum fuel, including a variety of toxic chemicals.

More than 2,200 residents near O’ahu, Hawaii, have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government, saying that fuel leaks from the Red Hill storage facility has led to severe water contamination and a number of serious health problems.

The complaint (PDF) was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii, seeking damages on behalf of plaintiffs residing in the area. However, the lawsuit notes that thousands of additional Red Hill plaintiffs have filed similar claims through an administrative process under the Federal Tort Claims Act.

Red Hill Hawaii Drinking Water Contamination

Located near the Pearl Harbor Memorial in Honolulu, Hawaii, the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility supports military and Naval operations for the U.S. in the Pacific, and holds up to 250 million gallons of fuel. However, the storage tanks are housed in close proximity to the Southern Oʻahu Basal Aquifer, which is the primary source of drinking water for more than 400,000 people.

On May 6, and November 20, 2021, U.S. Naval personnel at Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility reportedly made errors that released petroleum jet fuel and several other toxic chemicals into the Red Hill drinking water well that provides drinking, bathing and residential water to approximately 93,000 military service members and residents.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports hundreds of families, living on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPHH) and the Army’s Aliamanu Military Reservation and Red Hill Housing have reported petroleum odors coming from the tap water supplied by the Navy water systems. Many have reported becoming ill with serious illnesses and side effects from the water contamination.

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Learn More About this Lawsuit See If You Qualify For Compensation

The lawsuit claims the U.S. Navy failed to warn residents about the risks of the spills, failed to remediate the environmental and water contamination, and failed to provide appropriate treatment to those in the affected area afterwards.

Plaintiffs note that U.S. law requires the U.S. Navy to inform affected residents of such leaks within 24 hours. However, they indicate the Navy failed to do so, despite its legal obligations.

For example, after the November 21, 2021 incident, the Navy public affairs office issued a media release indicating that a spill of 14,000 gallons had occurred, but had been recovered and contained. However, it made no indication that the leak had released into the environment and the Red Hill drinking water system.

“Because Government personnel then failed to disclose those leaks as required, the Plaintiffs continued to ingest jet fuel and became sick from that exposure. Instead of promptly and appropriately addressing the harm, Government officials conducted a woefully inadequate clean-up and clearing effort, while Government doctors provided medical care far below the standard of care,” the lawsuit states. “The Plaintiffs continue to suffer from severe illness, inconvenience, and fear.”

The Navy did not issue an advisory about the November 21, 2021 Red Hill fuel leak until November 29, when it issued a warning to avoid using the water for drinking. This came after dozens of residents reported chemical smells and a foul taste in their water.

Finally, on December 2, nearly two weeks after the incident, the Navy announced that it had detected petroleum chemicals in the water.

Red Hill Fuel Leak Health Concerns

The lawsuit indicates families in the area experienced inconvenience, illnesses, economic injuries and fears for their health. They reported symptoms of abdominal issues, anxiety, exhaustion, headaches, muscle and joint pain, skin problems, such as rashes and blisters.

“Many of these physical symptoms have persisted over time, and over 94% of families reported still struggling with anxiety months or years after the contamination,” according to the complaint.

According to the EPA report, the spills exposed residents using the Red Hill drinking water system to thousands of cancer-causing chemicals such as benzene, PFAS chemicals and other toxic substances.

Plaintiffs present claims of negligence, negligent undertaking, nuisance, medical negligence, failure to treat, delayed care, negligent infliction of emotional distress and premises liability.

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