Seventeen people were hospitalized overnight and hundreds sought medical treatment for symptoms after a Navy fuel spill in Hawaii contaminated Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam's water system, according to a new report.
A voluntary online survey found that 87% of 2,289 respondents reported symptoms from exposure that lasted more than 30 days, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry said.
The November jet fuel spill at the Navy's Red Hill Bulk Fuel Facility contaminated a well that supplied drinking water to thousands of residents at the base and other military housing neighborhoods near Honolulu, forcing many to use bottled water or decamp to hotels for months while the service addressed the issue.
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"This incident was unprecedented and impacted the lives and health of thousands of people," said Kathleen Ho, the deputy director of environmental health at the Hawaii Department of Health, which requested help from the two agencies to review the incident. "This survey helps to quantify their experiences."
A total of 62% of the reported symptoms were issues involving the nervous system, with the vast majority -- 58% -- being headaches, the two agencies found from the survey. Gastrointestinal issues, including diarrhea, and skin rashes also were reported by 58% of the respondents.
Other common symptoms included nausea (41%), burning or irritated eyes (38%), and a burning throat (32%), while many respondents said they experienced more than one symptom, according to the results, published in the CDC's May 27 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
The Department of Defense has since announced that it will empty the fuel storage facility, which sits atop the aquifer that supplies water to Honolulu, and close it. The service also has flushed and tested the water system to residential and installation buildings, announcing March 18 that the water is again safe to use.
The Navy has pledged to continue testing for contamination for the next two years.
According to the survey, which was conducted from Jan. 7 to Feb. 10, about 14% of affected households responded. The findings, which included 80% of respondents reporting improved symptoms after they stopped drinking or using the water in their homes, were "consistent with previous studies of exposure to petroleum hydrocarbons," the authors wrote.
"These results highlight the need for preventing exposure to petroleum products and might aid public health professionals and clinicians in detecting and responding to future similar incidents," wrote the authors, led by Alyssa N. Troeschel, with the CDC's Epidemic Intelligence Service.
The contamination affected about 9,000 households served by the Navy's water system. More than 5,900 residents were screened for symptoms following the spill, according to the service.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.
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