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Water flowing out of faucet

In response to the Red Hill (Kapūkakī) water contamination crisis on Oʻahu, the University of Hawaiʻi Red Hill Task Force created the Red Hill Information Hub to keep the public up-to-date on the latest information and resources involving the water crisis. An invaluable member of the Red Hill Task Force team and an impacted community member is UH Mānoa graduate student Tara Sutton, who is also a graduate assistant with the UH Economic Research Organization.

“I am deeply invested in this work,” said Sutton, a graduate student in geography and environment who was employed with the Water Resources Research Center as an undergraduate. “Like thousands of others, I have lasting health impacts from my exposure to and consumption of jet fuel and other toxic chemicals in my home’s water. I was shocked to discover that the issues surrounding Red Hill have plagued Hawaiʻi for decades, long before I personally experienced the effects of the toxic spill.”

woman standing against tree
Tara Sutton

Personal insights

Sutton says she was also personally disappointed by the Navy’s response and how the media covered the issue.

“We have watched Navy leadership minimize what happened to us and tell us how we should feel about our experiences,” said Sutton. “We have listened to public statements propagated by the media that diminish our community’s physical and mental health symptoms.”

She started working with the Red Hill Task Force under the leadership of UH experts Leah Bremer and Aurora Kagawa-Viviani researching the social impacts of the Red Hill jet fuel spill. She was part of the team that developed the hub, a one-stop-shop of the latest information, data and tools that can also be used for education, communication and research.

“As an affected community member, I was able to provide perspectives for other teams on the task force,” said Sutton. “When it came to the hub, I was able to give helpful insight for the FAQ section because of my direct experience with the Red Hill Clinic.”

Sutton herself reported concerns about household water issues to the Navy, and spent time finding information regarding announcements to residents on their water lines, information that pertained to Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam but was outside the scope of Red Hill.

“With my research and through the Red Hill Hub, I aim to contribute valuable, irrefutable information that will help bring the accountability that the people of Hawaiʻi have been seeking for years,” said Sutton. “It is my hope that these collective efforts will serve as a catalyst for healing both the land and the aquifers that are so essential to our community.”

Red Hill Clinic patient

Sutton also went as a patient to the Red Hill Clinic to experience how patients were seen there and how the system in the clinic worked so that the hub could have information posted that addressed this process.

“These are lessons that experience taught me on a deeper level than reading textbooks was able to,” added Sutton. “I am much more confident in my ability to be present in each moment of my research—whether those are phone calls, interviews, participant observation, data analysis—because of how I’ve been able to contribute in personal ways to the hub.”

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