Long-term health effects of fuel-contaminated water in Hawaii unclear, CDC and Navy say

Military medical officials have formed a joint task force to address immediate health concerns for service members and families affected by fuel-contaminated water in Hawaii, but little is known about what the long-term health effects might be.

It’s unclear how the new Department of Defense Incident Registry will track future families. All residents and designated persons on affected water systems will be automatically registered on the registry.

“We are taking all complaints that have surfaced seriously,” U.S. Pacific Fleet surgeon and senior medical advisor Navy Capt. Michael McGinnis said in a March 10 Facebook update at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam .” About 9,715 families were affected. Fuel leak into the Navy water distribution system. Families were allowed to stay in hotels at government fees in early December, and many of them have been there for more than three months. Families choosing to stay at home have been given access to drinking water, showers, laundry facilities and other services.

These include the Army and Air Force communities, as well as the Navy community. With 19 areas affected, an interagency team has been coordinating flushing water systems for contaminants and testing water. As of March 15, the Hawaii Department of Health has cleared all but four areas for safe drinking water. Of the 9,715 homes on the Navy water system, 90 percent, or 8,765, have been cleared for safe water and residents have moved back.

But some families reported persistent odors or sheen in the water after returning home. One resident said she still sees sheen in the water three days after turning on the faucet to clear any standing water. Officers have a rapid response team to resolve the issue and will be at home to assess the situation and conduct testing. As of March 15, the team had received 155 calls from residents and conducted 112 tests, with no JP-5 kerosene-based jet fuel detected in the water, according to a March 16 Facebook update.

What are the long-term health effects?

McGinnis acknowledged that service members and families have raised questions about the long-term effects of this exposure to fuel in the water.

“Based on what we know, we don’t expect long-term health problems in terms of the duration and intensity of exposure from this event,” McGinnis said. “But we’re not sure, that’s why we monitor it over time.”

CDC officials told Military Times that the health effects of JP-5, JP-8 and Jet A fuels depend on the amount and duration of your exposure to these fuels. “Unfortunately, we know very little about the effects of these fuels on human health,” they said.

According to the public health statement about these fuels on the CDC website, there are no reliable studies of cancer in humans exposed to these fuels.

According to the CDC’s public health statement, exposure to these fuels occurs primarily in occupational settings where children are less likely to be exposed, and no studies have been found on the health effects of exposure to these fuels in children.

“The question is, how do we make sure we are aware of the potential health effects of water over time?” McGinnis said.

“Specifically, the Department of Defense has established an incident registry to record all individuals who may have been exposed to this type of contaminated water incident,” McGinnis said March 10. “We are capturing homes living in the Navy water system. families, as well as command and DoD personnel on active duty and DoD personnel working on bases supplied by water systems.

In response to the crisis, Navy officials created a Joint Health Services Task Force — a joint medical team made up of senior leaders from combat medical units and military treatment facilities in Hawaii, McGinnis said. They are also in close contact with the Hawaii Department of Health, he said.

“We’re monitoring incoming calls, as well as patient visits to all of our military treatment facilities, because we want to have a very good understanding of what our families and beneficiaries are going through and make sure we’re not missing anything,” he said.

Most military families stationed in Hawaii leave after a few years.

Navy officials did not answer Military Times questions about how specific links between prospective patients and the registry would be established to inform their prospective medical providers of their exposure, such as through the Military Health System Genesis Electronic Records System.


On November 28, family members of the military reported smelling fuel and seeing slicks of oil in the tap water. But some people report mysterious abdominal pain, vomiting, memory loss, rashes, eye irritation, and tooth and gum problems even before signs of fuel appear.

Navy officials said it may have been a fuel spill on Nov. 20, in which an unknown amount of JP-5 jet fuel appeared to have entered the Red Mountain oil well in one incident, from which it was then pumped and distributed in parts. Navy water system.

It is unclear whether military health care providers communicated with each other about their patients’ unexplained symptoms before Nov. 28.

Military Times asked defense officials on Dec. 17 if there were any surveillance systems or central communication systems within military treatment facilities that could alert medical officials to the possibility of these mysterious symptoms and larger problems. The questions were referred to the Navy, and as of March 17, service officials had not responded.

According to a statement provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to Military Times, there is currently no law or authorization requiring federal agencies, including the military, to report symptoms to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC’s Toxic Substances and Disease Registry relies on state, local and federal agencies to notify them of chemical releases and suspected human exposures, the statement said. When these situations occur, the agency’s Chemical Exposure Assessment Program helps state and local health departments conduct rapid epidemiological assessments. Among other things, state and local health departments can use this information to identify a group of exposed populations that may require long-term follow-up.

The CDC and the Hawaii Department of Health conducted an online survey of those affected by the fuel spill who live and work in the area, including the Hawaiian civilian and military community.

These military families in Hawaii are now being monitored through the new Allied Health Services task force, McGinnis said in a March 10 Facebook live update. Through discussions between medical operations leadership and military treatment facility leadership, he said, “we” re-coordinated and understood closely so that if someone sees something, we can communicate that quickly and comprehensively, and make a point about this Notify our providers of events and have subject matter experts notify them as they assess our patients, one-on-one, to ensure we fully address all concerns. “

He recommends that people with health concerns make an appointment with their primary care provider; communicate through a secure messaging app through the Military Health System Genesis Portal; or contact the Nurse Advice Line.

test questions

Families have repeatedly expressed concerns about a lack of testing for family members, while symptomatic active-duty members have been given a battery of tests.

According to the CDC, “In general, jet fuel and its metabolites leave the body very quickly. Tests to detect these chemicals need to be done within a few days of exposure.” Officials told Military Times , so far, the CDC has not recommended any testing for this event.

“The chemicals in JP-5, JP-8 and Jet A fuel can enter your body through the lungs, digestive tract or skin,” CDC officials said in the statement. “We don’t have information on how much of the chemicals in JP-5, JP-8 or Jet A fuel can get into the bloodstream, but we do know that a lot of the chemicals in jet fuel can easily get into the bloodstream.

“Chemicals in JP-5, JP-8 or Jet A fuel are excreted through urine, feces or breathing.”

McGinnis said he was aware of these issues with testing and said families with concerns or complaints should contact their healthcare provider for an evaluation.

“Of course our suppliers will order any indicated tests,” he said. However, “in this specific incident, biomonitoring (which may include testing of blood, urine and saliva) was not indicated.”

He noted that this does not preclude specific testing of individuals if necessary.

CDC officials told Military Times that biomonitoring is not an effective way to learn about past exposure to jet fuel.

“It can be an effective tool for assessing continued exposure to many chemicals, including jet fuel,” the officials said. “It is important to note that in this case, if blood is collected during or within hours of exposure, Or urine, biomonitoring will only detect elevated markers of exposure to jet fuel. This is because the volatile chemicals that make up jet fuel are excreted through exhaled gas and urine within hours.”

In addition, some of the chemicals found in jet fuel are also present in tobacco smoke, gasoline and other substances, so measuring specific exposures can be difficult, they said.

McGinnis said patients with complaints or concerns will need to contact their healthcare provider, who will conduct an individual assessment based on their concerns and past medical history.

In late November and early December, healthcare providers saw about 5,900 people significantly affected, with symptoms consistent with environmental exposure to oil, McGinnis said.

“In the first two weeks of the event, we were seeing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, and skin problems like rashes and itching,” McGinnis said. He told lawmakers at a hearing in January that the issues were “quickly resolved” once the men were removed from the water.

“We are not seeing persistent symptoms of activity,” he said in a March 10 Facebook update. “However, we’re very sensitive about it. … We’re watching this closely to make sure we’re not missing anything.”

As for families now with chronic conditions, he said, “We want to make sure we have a full picture of these situations. We have joint discussions among senior medical leadership on this issue.  …”

The complaints were “pretty widespread,” he said. “What makes this challenging is that we don’t have a range of similar types of diseases or diseases that are showing signs of being attributable to chronic exposure. However, that’s where this registry is important to make sure we have The ability to closely monitor our population over time to remain sensitive to any potential long-term health effects.”

As for family concerns about whether they’re getting real information from military leaders about their health problems, McGinnis said health officials are “fully committed to being transparent and open. … We’re fully committed to the Navy’s water distribution system.” The health and safety of all personnel.”

“We do take every concern or complaint seriously,” he said. “There were important discussions to make sure we were fully informed about what was going on within our group.”

Karen has covered military families, quality of life, and consumer issues for the Military Times for more than 30 years and is a co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book “Battle Plans to Support Military Families.” She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Florida, and Athens, Georgia.

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