Thousands of military service members and military families stationed in and around Oahu’s Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam are suffering adverse health problems from toxic jet fuel exposure.
On November 22, the Navy reported a 14,000-gallon fuel leak from a fire suppression drain line near its Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility in Honolulu. The spill entered a tunnel system about 100 feet above an aquifer that supplies drinking water to around 400,000 Hawaii residents.
At the time, Navy officials didn’t think any fuel had escaped the tunnel system. But, beginning on November 28, thousands of military families in and around Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam reported smelling fuel in tap water and symptoms of rashes, headaches, nosebleeds, cramps, and nausea. Reports included pets getting sick or dying.
At first, Navy officials claimed the water was still safe to drink. But on December 5, Navy Capt. Erik Spitzer apologized for the statement on the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam Facebook page:
“We truly thought the testing results indicated the water was safe to drink. We were wrong. I apologize with my whole heart that we trusted those initial tests… and I regret I did not tell our families not to drink the water. I am deeply remorseful. My apologies to you all.”
On December 10, health officials confirmed contamination with jet propulsion fuel-5 (JP-5) and petroleum at 350 times over the safe drinking level. The Navy confirmed the contamination, closed the facility, and relocated 3,500 military families from Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to a safe location.
Health Effects of Jet Fuel Exposure
According to the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), JP-5 jet fuel can enter through the skin, ingestion, or inhalation of fumes from contaminated water or soil. Common sources of exposure are drinking, cooking, bathing, swimming, laundry, breathing fumes from tap water.
Short term exposure to jet fuel may cause:
- Difficulty breathing
- Eye irritation
- Hearing problems
- Skin irritation
- Throat irritation
- Menstrual cycle irregularity
Studies suggest that long-term exposure to jet fuel can damage the heart, lungs, liver, nervous system, and immune system and impair hearing. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies jet fuel as a Group 3 carcinogen – meaning it is seen to cause cancer in animals, but there is not enough evidence to claim that JP-5 causes cancer in humans.
VA Benefits for Jet Fuel Exposure
Thousands of military service members and families stationed on the island of Oahu could have been exposed to contaminated water. However, if health effects are scientifically shown to be associated with jet fuel exposure at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, VA may end up creating a presumptive list for disability benefits.
Similar presumptive lists are available for Vietnam veterans and Agent Orange exposure and veterans exposed to contaminated water at Camp Lejeune.
On January 4, the CDC and the ATSDR initiated a registry to track long-term health effects of civilian exposure to jet fuel from the Hawaii Red Hill spill. The registry was opened to military personnel and families on January 11. According to Navy officials, Oahu residents will automatically be entered into the registry. A survey is available through February 7.
Once officials can establish the health problems associated with fuel exposure at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, they may offer presumptive service connection. Until we get a presumptive list, military families stationed at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam can file a claim for disability compensation based on service-connected toxin exposure.
If you are a military service member or dependent stationed at or near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, be sure to keep a log of all adverse health events, doctor visits, and relocations. Visit your physician with any symptoms of fuel exposure.
To establish VA service connection for jet fuel exposure, you must be able to provide proof of:
- A current diagnosis of a health condition associated with jet fuel exposure,
- An in-service exposure event (dates and locations of service), and
- A medical nexus letter connecting your current diagnosis to the in-service exposure.
If you were stationed at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam or anywhere in Oahu and have questions about VA disability benefits for jet fuel exposure or an increased disability rating for jet fuel exposure, we can help. Contact us today at 888.878.9350 or Use This Online Form.