A year after the Red Hill crisis, the Navy is opening a Hawaiian clinic amid claims of long-term health problems

The Navy plans to open a medical clinic for people in the Pearl Harbor community suffering from health conditions they believe are related to the Red Hill fuel spill last year, which leaked 20,000 gallons of fuel into the local water supply .

The plan was announced by the Defense Health Agency with no further details late Monday during an update briefing for Hawaii media. dr Jennifer Espiritu, an interim emergency public health officer for the agency, said residents had reported neurological, respiratory and gastrointestinal problems. The clinic aims to help treat these problems.

Military personnel filed an exposure and illness lawsuit in August after two separate leaks at the Navy’s Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility spilled out in 2021, and surveys of local residents revealed they believe they are still under long-term suffer health effects from drinking fuel. But the military has been reluctant to confirm a link between the Red Hill leak and the disease.

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“People absolutely have health issues, I believe that, and people deserve to be seen, I believe with all my heart. Whether the two are linked, we can’t make that jump right now,” Espiritu told Military.com during the briefing. “But what we want is for people to come in so we can see them, find out what’s happening to them and work through them thoroughly. So if there is a connection, we can pursue it.”

A year ago, hundreds of military families reported fuel smells in their tap water; About 93,000 users of the Navy water system were affected by the spilled fuel, which included JP-5 jet fuel, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

A May survey by the state of Hawaii and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found widespread health effects from the spill, which was the result of an undetected leak earlier in the year and another incident in November 2021 in which a worker rammed a pipe and it burst .

“87 percent of more than 2,000 survey respondents reported at least one new or worsening health symptom after exposure to JP-5 jet fuel in the Navy’s water system,” the state health department and CDC said in May. “Thirty-seven percent sought medical help and 17 people reported being hospitalized overnight.”

But the military claims there is little research showing a link between fuel exposure and long-term health problems. Espiritu said the existing medical literature indicates short-term effects of fuel-contaminated drinking water.

“There are a limited number of long-term exposure studies and definitely not long-term exposure studies in vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, the chronically ill and children,” Espiritu said. “So what was said in March, that we didn’t expect any long-term effects, is true.”

Still, the DHA plans to open the Pearl Harbor Health Clinic to see patients reporting just that. The clinic will be modeled after other military treatment facilities and will be staffed by Navy, Army and Air Force health personnel to treat service members and families from each service.

“What it is is a special clinic for people exposed to contaminated water, where they can come in and have access to their own care teams as well as specialists to solve their long-term health problems,” Espiritu said.

The clinic’s opening date, location and hours of operation were not released Monday as planning was still being finalized. Espiritu said there are ongoing considerations for a long-term health surveillance program for the community, but nothing has been decided yet.

The military has shut down Red Hill, and a task force is working to remove fuel from the aging facility. Earlier this month it had completed the removal of all remaining fuel in the pipes and is now planning to empty the storage tanks.

The incident last year sparked widespread fear and concern, forcing families to flee their homes during the holiday season. At the time, Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam’s commanding officer, Capt. Erik Spitzer, was the first to tell families that the water was safe to drink.

“There is no immediate indication that the water is unsafe,” and “my staff and I are drinking the water on base this morning, and many of my staff are living in shelters and are also drinking and using the water,” Spitzer said Message to the community on November 29, 2021.

Spitzer later said he was “deeply remorseful” for the news and retired that summer with the Legion of Merit Award, the second-highest honor for non-combat service.

“The past year has been extremely difficult for our military families and the people of Hawaii. I acknowledge their anger, frustration, disappointment and distrust. I hear them loud and clear,” Rear Admiral Stephen Barnett, commander of the Navy Region Hawaii, said during Monday’s news briefing.

Barnett said he wants to complete the fuel removal ahead of the projected completion date of June 2024.

Military families sued in August alleging the Navy’s negligence in preventing a public health crisis and fomenting “toxic secrets.” The lawsuit compares the spill to water pollution at Marine Corps Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where pollution was linked to cancer and other serious health problems between the 1950s and 1980s.

– Travis Tritten can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Tritten.

See Also: Local Hawaii officials fear Navy may attempt to use Red Hill for refueling again

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