Navy Says Military Families Displaced By Water Crisis May Return Home Next Week

Navy officials told state lawmakers on Wednesday that families who were displaced from their homes because of the Navy’s water contamination crisis may start to return as early as next week, but the Hawaii Department of Health has stopped short of such a prediction.

Navy Rear Adm. Blake Converse said residents will return after the Navy flushes the pipes throughout its water distribution system and in residences. The Navy will also test samples from 10% of the residences and local businesses for water safety, as well as all schools on the water system, he said.

“It’ll be completely flushed, and it will have the sample results complete and posted,” said Navy Rear Admiral John Korka, the commander of Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command. “And also, we’ll need DOH to also lift the advisory that currently exists today.”

Rear Admiral Blake Converse speaks before a ‘photo op’ at the CINCPAC command center with left-right, Chief of Environmental Division US Army Garrison Hawaii, Sherri R. Eng N45 Commander, Navy Region Hawaii by direction of the Commander, Kathleen S. Ho, Deputy Director of Environmental Health, Hawaii Department of Health, and right, Ben Castellana, On Scene Coordinator, US EPA Region 9.
Rear Admiral Blake Converse said the Navy is currently flushing the system and testing for contamination. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Currently, the health department is advising all 93,000 Navy water customers not to drink the water and to only use it for other purposes if it doesn’t smell like fuel. More than 3,000 families have moved into hotels because of the crisis.

Asked if DOH concurs with the Navy’s assessment that military families could start safely returning to their homes next week, DOH spokesman Brooks Baehr responded via text: “We certainly have not said that.”

Despite the Navy’s stated timeline, it’s unknown whether families sickened after consuming petroleum-laced water will feel comfortable returning home.

Cheri Burness, who has been living in hotels for nearly a month with her two kids and dog, said she doesn’t plan to take the Navy at its word that homes are safe.

Cheri Burness has been living in a hotel room with her two kids and dog for nearly a month amid the Navy's water contamination crisis.
Cheri Burness has been living in hotels with her two kids and dog for nearly a month amid the Navy’s water contamination crisis. Hawaii News Now

“I will never trust the Navy again,” she said. “They’re not even doing the bare minimum in my opinion, never mind what they should do.”

She noted that the U.S. Army has issued more stringent guidance than the Navy has. The Army has advised people to stop using their refrigerators and other appliances that use water, including coffee makers, and also recommends using only bottled water or water provided from trailers for cooking, dishwashing, cleaning and personal hygiene.

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