Answers Needed On Potential Harm From Red Hill Jet Fuel - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Jenny Welham

Jenny Welham is a board-certified pediatrician with over 20 years of experience and the owner of Island Pediatrics of Honolulu. She is on the clinical faculty at the John A. Burns School of Medicine and has been a board member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Hawaii Chapter for the past six years.

I am a pediatrician in private practice in Honolulu who serves local and military families. I have been following the informative articles in Civil Beat about the Red Hill fuel leaks, which should be declared a national disaster and federal emergency.

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Over 100,000 people will be part of an experiment on humans that would never be approved by an institutional review board. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry sent a team from Atlanta to Honolulu for three weeks to investigate the impact on service members and their families.

Unfortunately, the ATSDR did not contact many local pediatricians or physicians who care for military and civilian families. We were also a little busy dealing with the omicron surge. Local and military physicians have received little guidance from state and federal agencies.

I want to raise awareness about the lack of response and support for children, family members, locals and military personnel who have had long-term exposure to water with jet fuel. This exposure is through drinking water, eating food, wearing clothing, sleeping on sheets, and being covered with blankets washed in water with jet fuel.

Infants and children have a larger surface area of skin that is exposed. Children’s developing brains, nervous system, and immune system are more vulnerable to the toxic effects of hydrocarbon ingestion.

Until last week, I was following the recommendations of the experts. Then I received a call from a concerned mother who told me of parents getting outside testing for jet fuel exposure who had levels of chemicals from jet fuel that were tens of thousands higher than usual. According to EPA documents, these compounds come from fuel, leaking fuel tanks, and seep into groundwater.

Faucets in the Navy Exchange bathrooms were out of service on Dec. 6, 2021 amid the Red Hill water contamination crisis.
Faucets in the Navy Exchange bathrooms were out of service on Dec. 6 amid the Red Hill water contamination crisis. There are no published guidelines about long-term jet fuel ingestion or exposure. Christina Jedra/Civil Beat/2021

The current recommendations from the Hawaii Department of Health and the federal government are based on studies of jet fuel exposure via inhalation of aerosols and vapors or skin contact. There is no information about the acute and long-term effects in children, pregnant mothers or other humans drinking water with jet fuel.

As a concerned pediatrician, I want to know why this is not in the headlines. Is no news good news?

Cognitive Impairment

Last week, families living in Kapilina and Iroquois Point told me their water wasn’t affected. We need to get this information out nationally and make sure local residents know how to find out if they or their children ingested jet fuel in their residences, workplaces, schools, and day care centers.

People need to be aware that there are no published guidelines about long-term jet fuel ingestion or exposure. The symptoms of jet fuel exposure mimic many illnesses. They are often non-specific (e.g., headache, abdominal pain, dizziness, balance problems, auditory processing disorders, visual processing disorders, ADHD, cognitive impairment, aggression).

Imagine you are a first-time parent who has a 2-year-old. You go to your pediatrician and mention that they fall and trip a lot, are having temper tantrums, don’t listen, aren’t sleeping through the night and are cranky all the time. You also mention that they have been getting sick every other week since starting day care.

Why aren’t we declaring this a national disaster?

Yes, all of these can be normal for healthy 2-year-olds, but these are also symptoms of jet fuel poisoning on their developing brains, nervous system and immune system. Children can’t advocate for themselves. Parents were sick and tired too.

Your pediatrician or primary care provider may or may not recognize these symptoms of jet fuel ingestion. There are no readily available lab or neuro-cognitive tests and no treatment even if there were.

Why aren’t we declaring this a national disaster? Why isn’t this in the national and local headlines? Why aren’t we providing testing, monitoring closely and developing therapies to minimize long-term impacts on our families?

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About the Author

Jenny Welham

Jenny Welham is a board-certified pediatrician with over 20 years of experience and the owner of Island Pediatrics of Honolulu. She is on the clinical faculty at the John A. Burns School of Medicine and has been a board member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Hawaii Chapter for the past six years.

Latest Comments (0)

Dr. Welham's observations and concerns are accurate and reiterates the concerns of the affected families. The issues related to contaminating the water source, ineffective corrective actions, etc. are important issues. As Dr. Welham pointed out the information and studies related to long term health effects from exposing large groups of people and children to jet fuel is not available. The DOH's environmental action levels (EALs) to allow amounts of jet fuel in the water and declaration that it is "protective of human health" disregards the fact that we don't know the effects of exposure to people and children. The issue of the public policy to use the EALs without complete regard for the health effects is front page news that should be out there every day!!!

wchun · 5 months ago

With all due respect doc, if you strongly feel that your issue is a very important one, your advocacy is a good beginning. Now you yourself need to find other like minded individuals and form another group to advocate and compile data and organize along the lines you describe.I believe that you believe. In fact, this could lead to a greater understanding of all pediatric long term effects from other environmental inputs into the keiki. I'm sure that there are other like minded individuals w/ the same passion you have that would be willing to organize. Go for it.

Ranger_MC · 5 months ago

I have heard over and over again about how Petroleum can't be fatal or the amounts of that was discovered in the Red Hills mess is no big deal yet here we are watching the Keiki that have drank from those intoxicated pipes suffer from various symptoms that also brings pain to the families having to hear this from Doctors at the Tripler Medical Center they haven't seen no "concrete" evidence of Petroleum poisoning" and that what they have examined isn't convincing enough either, Hello ! Anytime a child is consistently having symptoms that fit that Criteria of Petroleum Poisoning and its dragging out ( the illness in a child) then, " If it walks like a duck , quacks like a duck and swims like a duck. THEN ITS A DUCK ! Not a confused / blind mocking bird. Petroleum poisoning is something that will last a long time and there is noted cases of death. So someone needs to do something quick and w/the EPA THEY will for sure get the needed evidence to shut Red Hills down and we won't lose any human lives at the incompetence of the Military and their families. There is enough neglect and oversight happening in the Military now, we don't need to add to it

unclebob60 · 5 months ago

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