HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) – The overall health of households impacted by the Navy water crisis has gotten worse since last year’s fuel spills from the Red Hill tanks, a new survey from the CDC and state finds.

The survey says 9,700 households were potentially exposed to jet fuel in their tap water after the spills.

After repeated testing, the state Department of Health lifted the “do not drink” advisory around March.

But a follow-up survey of 986 people in September shows the health impacts could be lingering.

The survey said:

  • 41% reported an existing condition that had worsened;
  • 31% reported a new diagnosis;
  • and 25% reported a new diagnosis with no pre-existing condition.

Almost a third of respondents reported tasting or smelling petroleum in their tap water.

“And 29% reported smelling or tasting petroleum or seeing a sheen in the past 30 days,” said Daniel Nguyen, epidemic intelligence service officer at the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

“Many participants report worse health after the incident,” he added.

Previous studies have shown exposure to fuel can cause several symptoms.

“These previous studies show exposure to jet fuel may impact the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract and nervous system,” said Nguyen. “Commonly reported accidental kerosene exposure include difficulty breathing, abdominal pain, vomiting, fatigue and convulsion.”

Military leaders say the water from the Red Hill well is no longer feeding its Pearl Harbor drinking water system and showing no more signs of contamination.

“We have not seen any indication of detect in the drinking water,” said Capt. Cameron Geertsema, commanding officer of the Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command.

But residents say the CDC survey is alarming ― and underscores the need for more proactive efforts.

Kat McClanahan lives in military housing at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and says she’s gotten tremors and balance problems since last year’s fuel spills.

“All these families are left to navigate this, dismissed by the military, dismissed by many well intended doctors who don’t understand toxic exposure,’ said McClanahan.

The CDC says people’s mental health also declined since last year’s spills.

As the response to the crisis continues, the Defense Health Agency is working to establish a military clinic dedicated to medical concerns relating to potential exposures.

One civilian physician says community doctors like her don’t feel supported. “I’ve had some patients come in and tell me their symptoms and didn’t realized the water was contaminated at the time,” said Dr. Melanie Lau.

“It didn’t click until after contamination,” she added.


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