The Navy’s contamination of its water supply with fuel last year caused approximately 2,000 people to experience symptoms of petroleum exposure, the vast majority of whom were sick for more than a month, according to preliminary results of a survey conducted by federal health officials.

Meredith Wilson had to move into a Waikiki hotel and start taking multiple medications to relieve symptoms from her petroleum exposure. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

The findings, shared at an Epidemic Intelligence Service conference on Thursday, are among the first statistics to be publicized about the human health impacts of the water contamination crisis. The Navy’s 93,000 water customers around Pearl Harbor were exposed to fuel contamination after two leaks at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility last year.

A full report on the survey is due to be published this summer, according to the Hawaii Department of Health.

The survey was administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry from Jan. 7 through Feb. 10.

A survey summary states that of the 2,314 participants surveyed, reported symptoms included: headache (57%); fatigue (44%); dizziness (38%); dry, itchy skin (50%); rash (40%); skin irritation/burning (37%); diarrhea (49%); nausea (40%); and anxiety (37%).

According to the summary, 86% of respondents reported experiencing at least one new or worsening symptom since November 20, the reported date of a major fuel leak, and 87% of symptomatic participants reported improvement after switching to an alternate water source.

Amanda Smith, who presented the results at Thursday’s conference, shared additional findings:

  • 52% reported signs of petroleum contamination in their tap water (e.g. smell, taste or oily sheen)
  • 75% of symptomatic participants indicated being sick for 30 days or more
  • 37% of respondents sought medical care after the incident, including 17 who were hospitalized overnight
  • 77% of the 730 child survey takers were symptomatic, more than half of whom were sick for over a month
  • Six children experienced new or worsening seizures
  • 36% of child participants were exposed at school
  • 78% of child survey takers missed school because of the crisis
  • Hundreds of pets experienced new or worsening illnesses and death

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