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More than 100 new plaintiffs sue military over Red Hill water contamination

Judge gavel, scales of justice and law books in court (BrianAJackson/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

The initial lawsuit was filed in August on behalf of four military families who say their exposure to the contamination resulted in long-term health problems.

More than 100 military family members and civilians who were on the Navy’s Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam drinking water system when it was contaminated with jet fuel last year have joined a lawsuit suing the federal government, alleging military officials provided inadequate medical care in the days and months following the emergency.

The was filed in August on behalf of four military families who say their exposure to the contamination resulted in long-term health problems. An amended complaint filed in U.S. District Court on Thursday also claims that the Navy destroyed evidence by discarding hundreds of water samples collected from homes in the days after the November 2021 water contamination emergency.

The lawsuit cites in September that found the Navy had collected hundreds of water samples from homes in the days after military families began complaining that they were getting sick and could smell fuel odors emanating from their faucets, but never tested them for petroleum. Instead, the Navy tested the samples for total organic carbon, a rough screening tool that can indicate water is contaminated, but not with what. The Navy said it discarded the samples after one month of storage.

“News reports have revealed that the government destroyed water sample vials collected from over one thousand family homes—every sample taken. Water samples that could have revealed the chemicals present in these family’s waters—for health and for accountability—were trashed instead, ” the complaint states. “This destruction of the evidence has robbed plaintiffs of the opportunity to know what was in their water.”

The lawsuit claims that the destruction of the water samples will make it harder for families to prove their case because the federal government will “seek to minimize its damages by claiming minimal exposure of plaintiffs to minimally contaminated water.”

The Navy told the Star-Advertiser earlier this year that during the initial response to the Nov. 2021 water contamination emergency, there wasn’t enough lab capacity on the continent to analyze all of the samples for petroleum chemicals and that in testing for total organic carbon it sought to identify areas on the water system where contamination may be present. The Navy said that some of the early samples collected from homes weren’t tested at all after it became clear that its drinking water system was indeed contaminated with jet fuel and would need to be flushed anyway.

The Navy did send some early samples that it collected from public locations, such as community centers, to labs to test for petroleum.

The Navy didn’t immediately respond to a request to comment on the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs are represented by Just Well Law, based in Austin, TX, and Honolulu’s Hosoda Law Group.

“Our legal team is working hard to hold the Navy accountable for its conduct before, during and after the Red Hill contamination, ” said attorney Kristina S. Baehr of Just Well Law in a press release. “Our case has gained momentum and our investigation continues.”

The lawsuit seeks damages for past and future health problems, including physical pain and emotional distress, that resulted from the water contamination, among other damages.


(c) 2022 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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