Lawyers representing four military families who were sickened after their tap water was contaminated by fuel that leaked from the Navy’s Red Hill storage facility filed a lawsuit in U.S District Court on Wednesday. 

It is the first of what is likely to be many lawsuits against the federal government after petroleum from the World War II-era underground complex was released into the water of some 93,000 people living around Pearl Harbor. U.S. Pacific Fleet investigations determined that human errors and systemic negligence allowed two catastrophic leaks to occur within months of each other. 

The lawsuit filed by mainland lawyer Kristina Baehr and local attorney Lyle Hosoda accuses the federal government of negligence related to the leaks last year and failure to immediately inform the public afterward. 

Ariana Wyatt daughter Indy Rose was sickened by the Red Hill water contamination. She suffers from hyperthyroidism and hair loss from her medications, according to the federal lawsuit filed by her mother.
Ariana Wyatt’s 4-year-old daughter Indy Rose was sickened by the Red Hill water contamination. She suffers from hyperthyroidism and has to undergo regular blood draws that traumatize her, according to the federal lawsuit filed on behalf of her mom. Courtesy: Ariana Wyatt

The attorneys are representing Patrick Feindt, husband of Army Maj. Amanda Feindt, and their two children; Nastasia Freeman, who is married to a Navy ensign, and three of their children; Jamie Simic, the wife of a senior chief petty officer in the Navy, and their two children; and Ariana Wyatt, the wife of an Air Force sergeant, and their daughter. 

The families, who were previously healthy, have experienced a litany of health ailments, including seizures, gastrointestinal disorders, neurological issues, burns, rashes, lesions, thyroid abnormalities and neurobehavioral challenges, according to the lawsuit. Their symptoms persisted after the water system was deemed safe and continue to this day, even though they’ve all moved to the mainland, the lawsuit says.

Fuel leaked from the Navy’s Red Hill fuel storage facility into the drinking water of Pearl Harbor residents last year. Provided to Civil Beat

The complaint also claims that sick families have been unable to access adequate medical testing and treatment in Oahu’s military health care system. 

“The government’s failure to offer proper medical treatment has compounded their trauma and sent them on a wild goose chase in search of the appropriate medical specialists,” the lawsuit says. 

“In each family, at least one adult has had to leave their employment, leave the service, or suffer other adverse professional actions as they attempt to get well,” it adds.

The plaintiffs are seeking compensation for their past and future physical suffering, mental anguish, lost income, loss of property, fear of unknown longterm health impacts, including cancer, infertility, miscarriage and other issues, according to the complaint. 

The plaintiffs include only the families. Although service members were among those impacted by the water crisis, they are barred from suing the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act.  

Baehr said she represents approximately 600 clients, about 160 of whom have filed claims with the Navy in advance of lawsuits that will be filed in the weeks and months to come. Other local attorneys, including former Hawaii attorney general Marjory Bronster, are also pursuing these cases. Separately, lawsuits are pending against the housing companies that serve as landlords for Pearl Harbor area residents.

In a statement, Navy spokeswoman Lydia Robertson said the Navy has received 186 claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act but declined to respond to specific allegations.

“The Navy is committed to our mission:  protecting the water, the environment, and our community,” spokeswoman Lydia Robertson said. “We will continue to take care of our families and the community while moving as quickly as is safely possible to defuel Red Hill.”

Debilitating Health Problems

In interviews, the families who filed suit described how the contamination crisis has upended their lives.

Before the Freeman family moved to the Aliamanu Military Reservation on Oahu in May 2021, their three children – now 5, 9 and 12 – were happy, healthy and active, Nastasia Freeman said. She and her husband were also in good health, she said. 

Koda and Nastasia Freeman moved to Oahu in May 2021. Their lives have been upended by the Red Hill water contamination crisis.
Navy Ensign Koda Freeman and his wife Nastasia, a therapist, moved to Oahu in May 2021. Their lives have been upended by the Red Hill water contamination crisis. Courtesy: Nastasia Freeman

Now, the family sees a team of nearly 20 specialists. 

“You have a sense of normalcy, and it got stripped away,” Navy Ensign Koda Freeman said, emotion welling up in his voice. 

Their oldest child is in a home hospital program where he can only handle five hours of remote schooling per week, his mother said. He was recently hospitalized twice after he found himself unable to stand and felt like his body was “on fire,” she said. The boy gets exhausted just putting on his clothes, his father said. 

The Freemans’ 9-year-old suffers from regular vomiting and headaches. 

And their 5-year-old is experiencing developmental delays and was diagnosed with autism, Freeman said. He was hospitalized in April after going limp and losing consciousness. 

“I rushed him into the emergency room, completely limp, ghost white, lips blue,” she said. “And they couldn’t give us any reasoning. I feel like we’re just left with questions all the time.” 

Many of the Freemans’ symptoms align with the findings of a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of Pearl Harbor area residents in the days immediately following the November fuel leak. Approximately 2,000 people reported health impacts including fatigue, headaches and skin irritation, and 17 people reported being hospitalized. The survey did not ask specifically about autism.

Koda continues to have gastrointestinal issues, brain fog and vertigo, he said. 

Nastasia has experienced a reactivation of a dormant seizure disorder and began having multiple seizures a day. The condition left her bedridden for months and unable to work full time as a therapist.  

“He didn’t think I was going to pull through,” she said of her husband. “That in itself took a toll, because in his head, he’s planning for the worst case scenario with our children.” 

The Pacific Fleet’s top medical adviser has said he doesn’t believe long-term health impacts from the fuel crisis are likely, and the Hawaii state toxicologist has issued guidance to local physicians stating that fuel ingredients pass through the bloodstream quickly. 

But the Freemans said that doesn’t reflect their reality.

Nastasia Freeman's family moved to Oahu in May 2021. Their lives have been upended by the Red Hill water contamination crisis. Her son has struggled to walk in recent weeks.
Nastasia Freeman’s son has struggled to walk in recent weeks. Courtesy: Nastasia Freeman/2022

“It’s not something that left our system,” she said. “What we’re finding as lab work comes in is our organs themselves are damaged.”

In February, the Freemans moved to California where their days continue to be dominated by doctors’ appointments and unanswered health questions. 

“It’s scary,” Nastasia said. “What is the future for our children?” 

Ariana Wyatt has had similar experiences with her husband and their 4-year-old daughter. 

The Air Force family moved to Earhart Village near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in January 2021. 

Health issues started to crop up that July and August, Wyatt said. The family would later learn that fuel had leaked from the Red Hill facility, located above the drinking water aquifer, on May 6, and that petroleum levels had spiked in the drinking water. But the Navy continued to deliver the water to thousands of families.  

Over that summer, Wyatt said she had horrible migraines, blurred vision and gastrointestinal problems. She went to the emergency room, and doctors told her she had a swollen kidney.

Her daughter was having urinary tract issues and rashes, and her husband was experiencing gastrointestinal bleeding, she said. 

But it was the week of Thanksgiving, when some 20,000 gallons of fuel gushed fom a Red Hill pipe near the drinking water, when things got really bad, Wyatt said. 

“Full-blown rashes, diarrhea, vomiting, brain fog, fatigue,” she said. “It hit us pretty hard.” 

Wyatt’s daughter is now suffering from serious thyroid problems and hair loss because of her medications. She recently had a seizure for the first time in her life and has experienced hallucinations and temperature spikes. 

Throughout the family’s ordeal, Wyatt said she has struggled to get tests and labs through the military medical system. 

“They told me it’s not necessary,” she said. “We keep hitting wall after wall.”

Wyatt said her family requested compassionate reassignment to the mainland but was denied until she did an interview with VICE News about their health challenges. After that, they were allowed to relocate to Alabama, she said. 

With so many people impacted by the contamination, the military should’ve provided comprehensive health care for everyone who got sick, Wyatt said. But that hasn’t happened. 

“We are still fending for ourselves in terms of trying to find treatment,” she said. “They poisoned us, and we are the ones who have to figure it out.”

Civil Beat’s health coverage is supported by the Atherton Family Foundation, Swayne Family Fund of Hawaii Community Foundation, Cooke Foundation and Papa Ola Lokahi.

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