EPA called on to lead tests amid Navy water crisis in Hawaii

A U.S. senator called on the Environmental Protection Agency to take the lead in testing to determine whether it’s safe to drink water that the Navy provides to and around Pearl Harbor.

U.S. Sen. 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.

Military households have complained about their tap water, with some saying they suffered ailments such as cramps and vomiting after drinking it.

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.

Ernest Lau, manager and chief engineer for the Board of Water Supply, said the Navy informed the city agency on Wednesday that a high level of diesel fuel was found in samples of the Aiea-Hala­wa water shaft.

“I got a call a couple hours later, from the same person in the Navy, basically trying to downplay the test result was not indicative of what’s in the aquifer. 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.

The Navy did not respond to the Board of Water Supply’s questions, or those submitted by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

But Lydia Robertson, a spokesperson for Navy Region Hawaii, said in an email to The Associated Press on Friday that Navy officials are investigating further and that additional water sample testing is being conducted.

Schatz wants the EPA to be the lead agency handling collection, testing, analysis and public communication of the water 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 in a statement Thursday.

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.

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