Dangers of chemicals leaking from US bases, homes on Hawaii’s Pacific Coast



Medical experts are calling it a “stinging illness” that doesn’t strike many healthy residents, and they’re worried about a mystery illness that’s been happening to many of Hawaii’s military families for a decade.

There’s also no definitive diagnosis for what they call a “persistent organic chemical syndrome” that has hit many residents.

The same compounds are being released from several military installations as they have leaked fuel, used diesel and explosives, according to a class-action lawsuit filed last month by more than a dozen citizens living near Pearl Harbor.

The chemical has made its way into the air and soil near Hawaii’s Naval Facilities Engineering Command on Hickam Field, the Air Force’s Kapolei Koolau Field and the Coast Guard’s Kailua Coast Guard Base, according to the suit.

The oil and chemicals of a variety of types include gasoline, hydraulic fluid, diesel fuel, urea and diesel-fuel based lube oil, according to environmental activist group Earthjustice.

According to the lawsuit, “custodians exposed to these chemical compounds have experienced symptoms including cancer, birth defects, miscarriages, infertility, autoimmune disease, neurological disorders, and allergies.”

The lawsuit asks for unspecified damages and for more information about the chemicals’ effects.

“We’re doing the best we can with science in terms of studying the drift of these compounds when you are dealing with everything from residential diesel engines to leaking pipelines from aircraft to scuba diving, so we’re doing a lot of work,” said Leonard Riddell, acting attorney for the plaintiffs.

“But there is no real scientific method for health outcomes and this is our hope that this case will help establish a scientific basis for those health outcomes to be solved.”

Riddell said the pollution has caused lower birth weights and miscarriages among the military families. One father has described a scratchy throat, an itchy nose and “a stinging illness” in his limbs.

“One of the husbands, for example, didn’t go to work, and then their wife started to have a miscarriage because of his illness,” Riddell said.

It is not known whether anyone has died from the illnesses.

The suit details a deposition of Lt. Col. James Anderson, who oversees Pearl Harbor base security, who said he’s had several employees complain of liver and thyroid disease, while others have lost pregnancies.

“I don’t have any doubt that we are having an effect. I’m not sure how much of an effect, but I know that we are having an effect,” Anderson said in the deposition.

The legal documents suggest the chemical exposure does not stop at the base.

According to an analysis of soil samples from Kailua, evidence was found “including 22 tanks holding approximately 3.4 million gallons of diesel fuel, 734,000 gallons of jet fuel, and almost 23,000 gallons of aviation turbine fuel.”

“For West Nile virus, there is no correlation (between) someone with a mosquito infection getting sick and actually having a West Nile virus infection,” said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

“But for a persistent organic chemical that’s been around for a decade, we just have no idea what’s going on here.”

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