Residents of military housing in Hawaii are making their first claims over contaminated Navy water
FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii –– More than a dozen people claiming they were injured by petroleum spills in the Navy’s water system in Hawaii filed lawsuits with the service Tuesday seeking compensation, their attorneys said in a news release released that day .
The claims of 15 people, who allege a variety of health problems as a result of the contamination, are a prerequisite for filing a lawsuit under the Federal Tort Claims Act in federal court, according to the press release from Austin, Texas-based Just Well Law. and Hosoda Law Group of Honolulu, the firms they represent.
Lawyers allege that military medical facilities did not refuse even the most basic care to residents suffering from symptoms and failed to perform standard toxicology laboratory tests, such as to check liver and kidney function.
The crisis, now in its fourth month, has displaced thousands of military families from their homes on and near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. The Navy has said its Red Hill well is contaminated with jet fuel.
“My message to the Navy is, here are the first claims — we have hundreds more to come,” Just Well Law Attorney Kristina Baehr told Stars and Stripes by phone Tuesday.
“It’s an opportunity for them to make it right,” she said. “You have six months from the date of this filing to pay out the claim.”
During this six-month administrative process, the Navy and law firms will negotiate an agreement on how much compensation would be appropriate, Baehr said.
“You have to compensate the families for the damage done,” she said.
The Navy’s chief of information, Rear Admiral Charlie Brown, said in a statement Tuesday that the Navy “has no comment on possible future legal action.”
Many of those affected by the contamination “continue to suffer from a variety of diseases and are at risk for conditions such as acute leukemia, respiratory diseases, immune and hematological diseases, neurological effects, visual and hearing impairments, kidney and liver diseases, cardiovascular diseases, Gastrointestinal disorders, genotoxic and metabolic effects,” the law firm’s press release reads.
In a letter to Navy Attorney General Vice Admiral Darse Crandall, who accompanied the filing, attorneys wrote that they “represent hundreds of clients poisoned by the negligence of federal operators” of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Facility, an underground complex the time of the Second World War.
“On (at least) two occasions, on May 6 and November 20, 2021, U.S. employees at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Facility made negligent errors that released tens of thousands of gallons of kerosene and other contaminants directly into our customer’s drinking water.” the letter indicated.
“Because government personnel then failed to disclose these leaks, our customers ingested contaminated water and became ill as a result.”
The letter describes the health issues faced by several of the families. Two children in one family presented symptoms of “dehydration, projectile vomiting, abdominal pain and neurological disorders” but were “denied basic testing when presenting to Tripler Medical Center with acute reactions to the contamination,” the letter said.
“One of the things that we’re asking for is testing for all of these families for just a basic toxicology blood lab,” Baehr told Stars and Stripes. “Navy and military institutions should of course make these laboratories available.”
Baehr claims that statements by Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro that the Navy is taking responsibility for the contaminated water should be enough to move the service forward and compensate those affected.
“The Navy has admitted its own wrongdoing and we hope that through the administrative process we can clarify and settle these allegations [the Navy] a chance to make it right,” she said.
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