Military Families In Hawaii Heading To Court Over 2021 Jet Fuel Leak That Tainted Water 

A massive environmental injury case will be going to trial in Hawaii this week. The case itself regards an incident that occurred in 2021, when a US military fuel tank facility, that was located underground, poisoned thousands of people after leaking jet fuel into Pearl Harbor’s drinking water supply. 

According to reports from NPR, a US District Court judge in Honolulu will hear the lawsuit from 17 “bellwether” plaintiffs, who are made up of relatives of military members that represent more than 7,500 others, including service members in three federal lawsuits.  

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According to the court documents, the US government admitted that the spill, which occurred at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility on November 20th, 2021, was a nuisance for the plaintiffs, and the US “breached its duty of care,” causing compensable injuries within the plaintiffs. 

The US government, however, disputed the plaintiff’s claims that the residents were exposed to jet fuel at such a high level that they experienced their alleged health effects. The health effects cited range from vomiting to rashes, with some even alleging their pet dogs experienced vomiting and illness. 

The plaintiffs submitted declarations which described how they got sick after the water crisis, leaving them with ongoing health problems such as seizures, asthma, eczema, and vestibular dysfunction, according to NPR

One of the individuals impacted is Nastasia Freeman, the wife of a Navy lieutenant and mother of three. Freeman described how the family initially assumed they had food poisoning from Thanksgiving 

“I had developed a rash on my arms with sores and lesions on my scalp, feet, and hands accompanied by a headache. I had a very strange sensation that I had never had before — I felt like my blood was on fire,” she said

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Nine days after the jet fuel leak, Freeman was told by a nurse that they had received multiple calls relating to tap water. Lawyers for the plaintiffs are arguing that Navy officials knew that the water had been contaminated but didn’t tell the residents not to drink it.

Freeman’s declaration filed in the case said: “It felt like we were being gaslit. We knew the water wasn’t safe, but the Navy was telling us that it was. They said they didn’t know what was in the water and that they were ‘investigating.'”

According to an investigative report performed by the Navy in 2022, a series of mistakes starting in May 2021 is what led to the November leak. In May an operator error caused a pipe to rupture, and caused around 21,000 gallons of fuel to leak. Most of that fuel spilled into a fire suppression line where it remained for six months, and caused it to sag, so when a cart rammed into that suppression line in November, the 21,000 gallons of fuel was released. 

“A bellwether trial helps attorneys to understand the likely success or failure of the cases that are in the pipeline,” explained Loretta Sheehan, a Honolulu-based personal injury attorney not involved in the water litigation.

“The outcome can help determine future damages to be awarded or settlements,” she said.