Military families are suing the federal government over Red Hill fuel leaks
Military families who say they were disgusted by last year’s fuel contamination of the Navy’s drinking water system around Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam are suing the federal government, demanding compensation for physical and mental suffering, medical expenses, lost income and others related Cost Red Hill Disaster.
The lawsuit was filed in federal court today on behalf of four families represented by Kristina Baehr, an attorney with Just Well Law of Austin, Texas, and Honolulu Attorney Lyle Hosoda. More plaintiffs are expected to join the lawsuit as a six-month mandatory waiting period during which families must first seek administrative relief expires. Baehr said her law firm represents about 150 affected families.
The plaintiffs include only the families of the military personnel. Military personnel are prohibited from suing the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
The Navy said in a statement Wednesday it was not discussing details or providing status updates on specific claims.
“The Navy is focused on ensuring the safety and health of those affected by the November 2021 fuel spill,” the Navy statement said. “Nothing is more important than the health, safety and welfare of our employees, their families and our neighbors. Providing our families and communities with clean, safe drinking water and ensuring their ongoing health and safety concerns are addressed are our highest priorities.”
In November, hundreds of families in the Navy’s drinking water system began reporting fuel odors coming from their faucets, saying they were experiencing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, burning and itchy skin, and rashes. Navy and state health officials then confirmed what many had already suspected – that fuel from the Navy’s underground fueling facility at Red Hill had contaminated the drinking water. The polluted drinking water well is only 2,400 feet downhill from the tanks, which have a long history of leaks.
The families suing the federal government all say they continue to suffer from numerous diseases in addition to the immediate health effects they were experiencing at the time of the contamination.
Plaintiff Natasia Freeman lived on the Aliamanu Military Reserve with her husband, who is in the Navy, and three children. She had a pre-existing seizure disorder, but was dormant prior to the water pollution, according to the lawsuit. She says she had multiple seizures a day after that and has since suffered from a long list of other health issues, including blood in her urine, clearings on her bladder wall and lesions on her brain.
Her children also have health issues, according to the lawsuit, which says her children had abnormal liver, kidney and pancreas lab results in August.
The lawsuit alleges that the military provided inadequate medical care and providers refused to order basic blood tests to check for toxic exposures.
“Nastasia Freeman’s medical care was riddled with errors, delays, misdiagnosis and medical malpractice,” the lawsuit states.
Jamie Simic, her husband and children, who lived in the Hale Na Koa neighborhood, are also suing. Jamie Simic says she’s had a long list of health issues from being exposed to the water. The lawsuit says doctors have found multiple cysts, legions and tumors throughout her body since she became ill, and her two children suffered from neurological symptoms and respiratory problems, among other health effects.
The lawsuit cites a long list of failures by the military to protect water supplies, including a failure to repair an earlier fuel leak in May 2021 that ultimately led to the November contamination.
“The United States knew that the Red Hill facility had a history of water leaks contaminated by fuel leaks and that if they did not act, further leaks were likely to occur and cause significant damage,” the lawsuit says. “The United States must now pay for the very consequences it knew would happen and risked.”
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