Red Hill Water Contamination Lawsuit

The Lanier Law Firm’s founding partner Mark Lanier, along with Just Well Law and the Hosoda Law Group, represents hundreds of military family members and civilians affected by the United States Navy’s catastrophic 2021 water supply contamination near the Red Hill fuel storage facility in Hawaii.

Read the 8/31/22 complaint here and the updated 11/10/22 complaint here.

The United States Navy operates the Red Hill Storage Facility on the island of O’ahu in Hawaii. Lawsuits filed in Hawaii federal court claim that The United States government failed to properly maintain and operate the fuel storage facility with reasonable care leading to fuel leaks in May 2021 and November 2021 that contaminated the water supply. The fuel-contaminated water poisoned the military families and workers on the base, leading to various health conditions.

On August 31, 2022, four families filed a Red Hill water contamination lawsuit against the United States government. Plaintiffs accuse the U.S. government of negligence, nuisance, medical negligence, failure to treat, delayed care, and infliction of emotional distress.

On November 10, more than 100 affected clients joined the lawsuit. We will continue to add clients to the federal lawsuit as the case proceeds.

If you or your family was affected by contaminated water at Red Hill and lived on the Navy water line on O’ahu between May and November 2021, contact The Lanier Law Firm.

What happened at Red Hill?

The Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility services Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickman with fuel for restocking ships and aircraft. The military community, military base, and housing units are also centered on the Hawaiian island of O’ahu.

The Red Hill fuel storage runs adjacent to the water supply that services the military community, facilities, and the surrounding housing. In May 2021, fuel leaked from the storage facility, and in November 2021, fuel leaked again and entered the water supply.

Residents noticed the water had a chemical odor to it. They smelled it in the shower and the sprinklers and saw the sheen in the water. Residents reported rashes, and gastrointestinal, neurological, and respiratory issues from the fuel-contaminated water supply.

How did the contamination happen?

On May 6, 2021, the Red Hill Storage Fuel Tank began to leak fuel into the fire suppression system due to an operator error. Almost twenty thousand gallons of fuel leaked out of the storage tank. Families began to get sick, with some admitted to hospitals with disorders such as rashes, fatigue, headaches, and nausea.

Six months later, fuel from the Red Hill Storage Facility leaked again. Another operator error caused a pipe valve to burst, infusing the fuel directly into the water supply on November 20, 2021. Residents complained about the contaminated water’s chemical order and sheen as symptoms and hospitalizations continued.

Over 93,000 residents were affected by the water contamination and harmed by the toxic chemicals.

Did The U.S. government know about the fuel leaks at Red Hill?

The Navy and United States government was aware of the risk of fuel leaks prior to the 2021 incidents. In 2018, a risk assessment report prepared by a consultant of the United States government stated that there was a greater than 27% probability of a sudden release of between 1,000 and 30,000 gallons of fuel each year and a 34% chance of a sudden release of more than 120,000 gallons of fuel at some point over the next 100 years.

After the first leak in May 2021, the United States government stated that over 1,600 gallons of fuel were leaked. Later, the government admitted that the actual amount leaked was 19,000 gallons. The government also stated that the fuel was removed and the water was not contaminated. It received a list of corrective actions to take in the October 2021 Mitigations Report. However, the Red Hill Fuel Storage Facility did not adopt them.

Because of the failure to correct any errors in the operation of the fuel storage facility, the second leak occurred in November 2021, and the fuel seeped into the water supply. Residents at the military base reported contamination of their water in November 2021.

When the residents raised their concerns about the water, the government continued to hide the fuel leak and did not warn the residents not to drink the water. After the initial leak, Captain Spitzer told families the water was safe to drink but later backtracked and stated, “I regret I did not tell our families not to drink the water.”

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act and EPA regulations, the Navy was required to notify the residents of the fuel leak and the contaminated water.

Because the Hawaii Department of Health received many complaints about the water, on November 29, 2021, it advised all residents who relied on the Navy water system to avoid using it for drinking, cooking, and oral hygiene. Of the residents who detected a fuel-like odor in the water, the Hawaii Department of Health advised them not to use the water for drinking, cooking, oral hygiene, bathing, dishwashing, and laundry.

However, the Navy continued to state that the water was not unsafe. It did not declare the truth about the leak until December 2, 2021.

In January 2022, Admiral Blake Converse stated, “…the Navy caused this problem, we own it, and we’re gonna fix it.” Admiral Paparo later reiterated, “The Navy is responsible for the May 6, 2021 and November 20, 2021 fuel spills at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility and subsequent water contamination.”

What are the effects of the Red Hill water contamination?

Residents and civilians drank the contaminated water, bathed in it, washed dishes and clothes with it, and brushed their teeth with it. They were exposed to the fuel-contaminated water on a daily basis.

This contamination of the water system caused men, women, and children to become ill. Some were hospitalized. Symptoms lasted for weeks and some victims continue to report suffering from their symptoms over a year later.

In January and February 2022, the Hawaii Department of Health partnered with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to conduct a survey of symptoms.

Commonly reported symptoms include the following:

  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Brain damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Liver damage
  • Miscarriage
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry or Itchy Skin
  • Nausea
  • Skin rash
  • Irritation/pain/ burning of eyes
  • Dizziness and light-headedness
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Memory loss
  • Other mental symptoms
  • Vestibular dysfunction (Balance issues)
  • Trauma
  • Cancer

This preventable tragedy does not only affect military members. The Red Hill water contamination also affects their families and civilian workers. Anyone who consumed contaminated water from Red Hill from May 2021 to November 2021 was affected.

What can people do if they were affected by the Red Hill water contamination disaster?

If you or your family were exposed to Red Hill’s contamination between May 2021 and November 2021, you may have a claim against the Navy and United States government. You can seek compensation for any injury, disease, illness, stress, trauma, and other medical conditions caused by the fuel leak at Red Hill. The Lanier Law Firm represents hundreds of families and civilians affected by the Red Hill water contamination disaster.

Mark Lanier and The Lanier Law Firm joined the legal team fighting for justice for Red Hill victims. Alongside the Just Well Law firm and the Hosoda Law Group, The Lanier Law Firm is on the front lines.

“The military families land civilians impacted by the Red Hill disaster deserve justice. I am pleased to join this team of Kristina, Jim and Lyle and their firms in prosecuting this important lawsuit. Together, we will do everything we can to help hold the Navy accountable for its conduct before, during and after the Red Hill contamination.” – Mark Lanier

The Lanier Law Firm is also involved in extensive environmental litigation, including Carteret, New Jersey chemical contamination, and the Camp Lejeune water contamination lawsuit.

Mark Lanier, Kristina Baehr, Lyle Hosoda, and their team will put all their experience and utmost care into the Red Hill lawsuit to get you and your family the financial compensation you deserve and hold the government and Navy accountable for their actions.

Contact The Lanier Law Firm today to discuss your Red Hill water contamination claim.

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