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A new survey of those affected by the Red Hill fuel leak shows nearly 80% of respondents are experiencing at least one new or worsening physical and/or mental health symptom nearly two years after the November 2021 spill.

The University of Hawaiʻi Economic Research Organization (UHERO), UH Mānoa Water Resources Research Center and UH Mānoa Department of Geography and Environment conducted a survey in July 2023 with Navy water users who had participated in previous surveys. The survey yielded 174 responses out of 1,900 who had participated in previous surveys.

When asked about the perceived effects of the fuel spill on their household, 81% of respondents said their household’s mental health was impacted or very impacted, followed by physical health (73%), recreation and leisure and finances (66% for both categories), and social interactions and educational work successes (58% for both categories). Of those reporting financial impacts from slightly impacted to very impacted (85%), more than 40% report that they continue to experience financial setbacks.

Survey responses

  • Mental health (e.g., anxiety, sleep disturbance, agitation, depression) and neurological symptoms (e.g, brain fog, memory issues, migraines/headaches) were the most widely reported, with nearly half of the respondents reporting ongoing symptoms, followed by gastrointestinal (e.g., diarrhea, nausea, cramps) and skin and eye symptoms (e.g., dry/itchy skin, rashes, burning eyes, redness).
  • About 92% of respondents reported shifting to an alternative water source after the leak, and more than 84% of water users who still live in the area continue to use an alternative source or filtered water.
  • Satisfaction with institutional response to the crisis varied substantially. By far, the highest satisfaction was with the Honolulu Board of Water Supply, which had significantly higher levels of satisfaction than all other institutions except for the Hawaiʻi Department of Health. Satisfaction rates were significantly lower for the Navy and the U.S. military (non-Navy). The Centers for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency ranked in the middle.

This survey is part of the UHERO rapid health survey, allowing for a comparison of health impacts between those affected by the spill and those who were not. Detailed results will be shared in a UHERO report in spring/summer 2024.

UHERO and the Department of Geography and Environment are housed in UH Mānoa’s College of Social Sciences.

The Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility leaked approximately 19,000 gallons of jet fuel into the Pearl Harbor aquifer, the primary source of Oʻahu’s drinking water. The event directly contaminated the Red Hill well, impacting the Navy water system, which provides water to about 93,000 people. The State of Hawaiʻi Department of Health urged Navy Water System users to stop using tap water on November 30, 2021. Water consumers were potentially exposed to jet fuel for at least 10 days before switching to an alternative source.

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