2021 Pearl Harbor Water Poisoning Trial Begins in Hawaii

U.S. military fuel tanks buried under Pearl Harbor poisoned hundreds of people with jet fuel over two years ago, and now a massive environmental damage case has begun in federal court in Honolulu, Hawaii.

More than 7,500 individuals, including current-duty military members, are represented by seventeen “bellwether” plaintiffs who are suing the United States in a judge-heard trial instead of a jury trial. The plaintiffs assert that the United States broke its “duty of care” regarding the November 20, 2021 incident at the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility. Although they have been granted compensatory damages, they still can’t agree on whether the residents were exposed to jet fuel at levels that caused gastrointestinal problems and skin rashes.

According to the plaintiffs’ testimony, the water crisis was the root cause of their severe illnesses and chronic ailments, including asthma, eczema, vertigo, seizures, and similar problems. According to U.S. Department of Justice attorney Rosemary Yogiaveetil, the Navy was mobilized in response to water concerns. They started cleaning every residence on the water line to restore clean water. For months, the Navy paid for some affected families’ hotel rooms and bottled water.

Legal representation for the plaintiffs asserts that Navy officials knew the water contained gasoline but did nothing to alert the public to the danger, instead assuring them that the water was safe to consume. According to plaintiffs’ attorney Kristina Baehr, the families had lost trust in the organizations that had helped them. Natasia Freeman, a navy officer’s wife and mother of three, said in her statement that her family mistakenly thought they had food illness over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Specialists at trial will show that the plaintiffs’ “myriad of injuries” were caused by preexisting conditions or unconnected to the fuel exposure. On May 6, 2021, an operator error caused 21,000 gallons of gasoline to spill out while being transferred between tanks, setting off a domino effect of mistakes. About 400 thousand people in the central business district of Honolulu get their water from these tanks, and the state has ordered the military to empty them.