Confusion And a Call For The EPA to Step In Latest Issues With Pearl Harbor Water Crisis

U.S. Sen Brian Schatz called on the Environmental Protection Agency to take the lead after other officials couldn't decide whether Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam's water is safe to drink.

Ernest Lau, manager and chief engineer for the Board of Water Supply, said a representative from the U.S. Navy told him Wednesday a large amount of diesel fuel was found in samples from one of its water shafts. Multiple military members and families also reported feeling sick with symptoms such as cramps and vomiting after drinking their tap water.

However, Navy officials said the testing does not confirm the water is contaminated because the water was not directly taken from the Navy's well.

Lau told the Associated Press he got a call from the same Navy representative who had contacted the agency earlier trying to "downplay" the results.

"So my question to that individual was: 'Wasn't the water in that pipe you took the sample from coming out of that shaft? If it's not coming out of the shaft, where did the diesel come from?'" Lau said.

In a statement made on Thursday, Schatz said he wanted the EPA to take a lead role in water sample collection and testing, as well as the public communication aspect of the crisis.

"We can't afford another day of the Navy and the state and county agencies disagreeing on the basic question of whether the drinking water is safe," he said.

Pear Harbor, Hawaii, water contamination
U.S. Senator Brian Schatz said the EPA should step in after the Navy disputed the Hawaii Department of Health's analysis of fuel contamination at a well that provides drinking water to the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam's water system. Above, a tunnel inside the Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility is seen in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on January 26, 2018. Files/U.S. Navy via AP

Testing last week showed the presence of petroleum in water that comes from a well near the underground fuel tank complex above an aquifer that has been the source of multiple fuel leaks over the years.

On Wednesday the state health department said the Navy reported diesel fuel levels more than double Hawaii health limits for drinking water in samples collected at one of the Navy's shafts.

But the Navy said the sample didn't come directly from the Navy's well and that Navy officials don't believe it indicated contamination.

That prompted Honolulu Board of Water Supply officials to question the results and urge more sampling to determine the source of the pollution and figure out which way the contaminated groundwater beneath the Navy's tanks is flowing, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

The Navy did not respond to the Board of Water Supply's questions or those submitted by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Navy officials didn't immediately return email or phone messages from the Associated Press Friday.

The EPA is providing support, Julia Giarmoleo, an agency spokesperson, told the newspaper.

The EPA isn't independently testing the water, but reviewing Navy test results, Giarmoleo said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Ernest Lau, Honolulu Board of Water Supply
Honolulu Board of Water Supply chief engineer Ernest Lau said the Navy informed the city agency on December 8, 2021, that a high level of diesel fuel was found in samples of the Aiea-Hala­wa water shaft. Above, Lau points at a map during a meeting in Honolulu on July 27, 2016, to show where the Navy plans to build wells to monitor potential contamination from giant military fuel storage tanks. Audrey McAvoy, File/AP Photo