The Navy will open a medical clinic in Pearl Harbor for individuals with health problems believed to be related to last year’s fuel leaks at the Red Hill Bulk fuel storage facility in Hawaii that contaminated a water supply on Oahu, thousands sick.
“We are creating the Red Hill Clinic, which is a safe place where our dedicated care teams will work with our patients to document what is happening to them and together determine what is the best way forward for them and their family’s health care.” Jennifer Espiritu, the interim public health emergency officer for the Defense Health Agency, told reporters Monday.
The clinic will go to a yet-to-be-announced military treatment facility on the island and will have health care workers from the Navy, Army and Air Force, Espiritu said. It was planned after residents reported skin, neurological, gastrointestinal and respiratory problems following the leak.
The health issues are believed to have stemmed from fuel spills in May and November 2021 at Red Hill that released about 20,000 gallons of fuel, contaminating a nearby well used by 93,000 people, including Hawaii military families, sickening nearly 6,000. .
flow caused the Pentagon to order the closure of the facility in March with the aim of completely defueling and shutting it down by June 2024.
Since then, more than 100 people affected by the water pollution have joined a lawsuit against the Navy. In the lawsuit, originally presented in August in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii, the plaintiffs allege they suffered physically, emotionally and financially because of the fuel leak. Those in the lawsuit believe there are long-term health effects from drinking fuel-contaminated water.
In the days and weeks after the leak, people living on the base reported nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches and skin problems, with some forced to leave their homes and move into hotels.
The US military, however, has not confirmed a link between the fuel leak and any illness.
“People absolutely have health care issues, which I believe, and people deserve to be seen, which I believe wholeheartedly,” Espiritu said. “If the two are connected, I can’t — we can’t take that step right now. But what we want to happen is for people to come in so that we can see them, find out what’s going on with them, and sort them out thoroughly, so if there’s a connection, we can follow it up. ”
Espiritu allowed that the military has not monitored those who have claimed health problems after the Red Hill spill, but reasoned that the health effects the agency would look for usually take decades to surface, such as cancer or some neurological conditions.
There is also little research on how exposure to the fuel will affect one’s health long-term, Espiritu said.
“There are a limited number of studies on long-term exposure and definitely not long-term exposure in vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, chronically ill people and children,” she said. “So what was said in March, that we didn’t expect long-term effects, is true.”
Adm. Stephen Barnett, commander of Navy Region Hawaii, acknowledged that the past year “has been extremely difficult for our military families and the people of Hawaii,” because of the leaks.
“I acknowledge their anger, frustration, disappointment and disbelief. I hear them loud and clear,” Barnett said Monday along with Espiritu.