US Goes On Trial For Military Fuel Leak That Allegedly Poisoned Thousands

(U.S. Navy Photo by Capt. Jereal Dorsey)

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Micaela Burrow Investigative Reporter, Defense
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The U.S. government is set to go on trial Monday in Hawaii for a case that began more than two years ago, when leaking jet fuel from a military storage site contaminated drinking water for thousands, according to The Associated Press.

Seventeen “bellwether” plaintiffs representing more than 7,500 people, including service members, will seek to convince a judge in a U.S. District Court in Honolulu that the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility jet fuel spill directly contributed to a spate of alleged health effects, including rashes and vomiting, the AP reported. While the U.S. has admitted the jet fuel leak incurred compensable injuries for the plaintiffs and that the U.S. “breached its duty of care,” it disputes that the alleged Pearl Harbor victims consumed the poisoned water at significant levels to cause the problematic health outcomes..

The bellwether plaintiffs comprise of relatives of military members who have submitted testimonies in the case about how consuming the tainted water made them feel ill and in some cases produced persistent health problems, including seizures, asthma, eczema and vestibular dysfunction, according to the AP. (RELATED: US Military Probe Finds Kabul Airport Bombing Was ‘Not Preventable,’ Contradicting Marine’s Bombshell Testimony)

“I had developed a rash on my arms with sores and lesions on my scalp, feet, and hands accompanied by a headache,” Nastasia Freeman, wife of a Navy lieutenant and mother of three, wrote. “I had a very strange sensation that I had never had before — I felt like my blood was on fire.”

Speaking to a nurse, she learned that other families in the area had called to express similar complaints, according to the AP. The common theme was the tap water.

Attorneys for the alleged victims say the Navy was aware of the fuel spill that had leaked into the area’s drinking water supply but failed to inform residents or warn them against drinking the tap water. Instead, they assured residents the water was safe.

“It felt like we were being gaslit,” Freeman’s declaration filed in the case said. “We knew the water wasn’t safe, but the Navy was telling us that it was. They said they didn’t know what was in the water and that they were ‘investigating.’”

Contractors assigned to Navy Closure Task Force - Red Hill (NCTF-RH) conduct groundwater quality monitoring inside the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility (RHBFSF), Halawa, Hawaii, April 4, 2024. In addition to its mission to safely decommission the facility, NCTF-RH is responsible for long-term environmental monitoring and remediation of the land and groundwater around the facility.

Contractors assigned to Navy Closure Task Force – Red Hill (NCTF-RH) conduct groundwater quality monitoring inside the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility (RHBFSF), Halawa, Hawaii, April 4, 2024. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Glenn Slaughter)

The Navy’s investigation report, released in 2022, found that 21,000 gallons of jet fuel spilled when an operator error caused a pipe to rupture. Most of the fuel flowed into a fire suppression line, weighing it down for six months, before a cart impacted the line on Nov. 20, 2021 and caused it to burst, releasing about 20,000 gallons.

More than 400,000 residents of Honolulu receive their tap water supply from aquifers that sit above the Red Hill storage facility, according to the AP.

The Navy conceded to demands from Hawaii residents worried about the threat to their water supply and agreed to drain the fuel tanks, completing the task in March.

“A bellwether trial helps attorneys to understand the likely success or failure of the cases that are in the pipeline,” Loretta Sheehan, a Honolulu-based personal injury attorney not involved in the case, told the AP.

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