HAWAII — Vomiting. Skin reactions. Exhaustion.
That’s what a military family with ties to San Diego said they are dealing with because of the Red Hill jet fuel leak in Hawaii, which contaminated the water supply for thousands of people on the island of Oahu.
The Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility is operated by the Navy and supports U.S. military operations from all branches of service in the Pacific. It can hold up to 250 million gallons of fuel.
The military confirmed leaks in at least two instances last year—May and November.
Nastasia Freeman, her Navy husband, and three younger children moved to Hawaii in May 2021 and lived in military housing. She said her kids started getting sick last year.
“My 11-year-old especially, he was very lethargic, very weak, and he was getting sent home from school all the time,” Freeman said.
She wasn’t sure what was causing it. When Freeman’s family came to visit on Thanksgiving, they also got sick. “My sister was vomiting,” Freeman said. “We didn’t think anything of it other than maybe a stomach virus or maybe COVID.”
COVID tests came back negative.
“It just became a new norm. Everybody was ill. We were exhausted. The kids were throwing up left and right. They were getting sent home from school,” Freeman said.
Her family was able to leave Hawaii in February and came back to Southern California. However, she said the damage was already done. Freeman said her pre-existing seizure disorder started becoming more prevalent. “I had been seizure-free for almost two years and then out of nowhere, they came back,” she said.
She also said she experienced reactions on her scalp, feet, and hands.
Freeman said in Oahu, she noticed grayish-brown specks in her water. At the time, she was not sure what caused it. The community started to suspect the drinking supply as the cause of people’s ailments.
“We were all starting to post on social media. Does anybody smell fuel? Does anybody taste fuel in their water? So we’re not even finding out directly from the military,” Freeman said. “We’re finding out from our neighbors.”
When Freeman noticed the smell coming from the water in her bathroom, she said her husband knew what it was right away.
“He walked down the hallway… kind of reached over me and turned it off and said that’s jet fuel,” she said.
He was right. In May 2021, the Navy confirmed more than 1,600 gallons leaked from Red Hill. In late November, the Navy said there was a release of “approximately 14,000 gallons of a water and fuel mix.” The total amount could be as much as 19,000 gallons, according to a top Navy official.
The leaks contaminated the drinking supply for approximately 93,000 people. On December 6, Hawaii’s Department of Health issued an emergency order because of the tainted water.
“It’s frustrating when your kids are sick,” Freeman said. “[My husband and I] talk about this all the time. He [said] you all didn’t raise your hand. I did but for him, we’re sacrificing our mental health, our emotional health, our physical health.”
Her husband is stationed back in San Diego temporarily, but Freeman said her family is still dealing with health care complications. She said it is worse for those still in Hawaii.
“There [are] so many people right now that are being left behind that are fighting for their lives,” Freeman said.
“The Navy quite literally poisoned these families,” said attorney Kristina Baehr, who is representing close to 100 families including the Freemans. The families have filed claims against the military.
Baehr said her clients’ symptoms range from projectile vomiting, neurological disorders, to abdominal pain. She said one mother went to the emergency room five times in four months and dropped below 98 pounds.
Baehr said while the Navy admitted to the leaks, the military fell short in its treatment of those affected.
“When the military stands up and they say the harm was just short term and the people had some tummy aches for a little while, that’s not fair. That’s not fair to the experiences of my clients who are suffering very real and lasting injuries,” Baehr said.
Freeman said she feels like the Navy has been dismissive. "I feel like it was a lot of cover up," she said.
A Navy spokesperson told Team 10 they are “aware of concerns related to long-term health effects.”
"Early on in our response to the Navy water system contamination issue, the Department of Defense set up an incident registry for all affected DOD personnel, including families. The Navy continues to update this registry and respond to the health concerns of our service members, civilians, and their dependents,” Navy spokesperson Sean Gano told Team 10.
The military is scheduled to provide a plan of action with milestones to defuel Red Hill by no later than the end of May.