Via America’s Lawyer: Thousands of military families in Hawaii were endangered by toxic drinking water that was tainted by jet fuel leaking from Pearl Harbor. Mike Papantonio is joined by attorney Joshua Harris to explain how the US Navy is now being forced to play cleanup.


*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.

Mike Papantonio:             It’s been a couple of months since a massive jet fuel leak contaminated the drinking water, thousands of military families in Hawaii. Now the Navy’s being tasked with cleaning up this disaster. I have Joshua, Joshua Harris with me to talk about it. Josh, this story has repeated itself so many times, hasn’t it? With the military, it’s either contractors for the military or the military that are just completely destroying ecosystems. This is a great example of it, isn’t it?

Joshua Harris:                     And it’s something we see come up over, over time and time again. It’s something that we’re gonna see come up in the future. You just have to understand that when these military installations have these large machines, these jets, these tankers, all sorts of things, they’re powered by fuel and it’s not solar powered. So when that fuel goes somewhere, unfortunately it goes into the ecosystem where there’s homes and communities nearby that are affected by it.

Mike Papantonio:             Well, this is 93,000 people that potentially are affected. Didn’t they always, already have to move about 3000 people away from a highly affected area?

Joshua Harris:                     They, they did. So the, the most recent event was back in November. They believe that there was a fighter jet that had fuel leakage at a Oahu military base and the surrounding communities. They did have to displace almost a hundred thousand people from their homes, because they were detecting petroleum in the water wells at 350 times the levels acceptable for safe drinking water. So those people certainly can’t live there.

Mike Papantonio:             Well, of course, you know the story on benzene, right? You know how dangerous benzene is. What are some of the physical problems that they’re having right now, that they’re, the, the early, the early problems because this is long term, man. If they’ve had exposure drinking benzene, this is serious, this is a serious issue.

Joshua Harris:                     The, it is. Some of the early onset issues are people who are drinking it are getting nausea, headaches, rashes, internal digestive issues. One of the things that we’re seeing inside of the homes are all of the systems inside the homes that use water, the dishwashers, the washing machines, the coffee pots, the plates, all of those things are being ruined and continuing to cause adverse health effects because they’re filtering through that water with petroleum.

Mike Papantonio:             You have peoples with their skin peeling off.

Joshua Harris:                     There is.

Mike Papantonio:             No, no explanation. There’s skin simply starts peeling off. These are children, mothers, fathers that have been, you can’t bathe in it. You can’t, you can’t drink it. You can’t swim in it. You can’t even cook in it. There’s no way to make it safe. You can’t boil it and make it safe, right?

Joshua Harris:                     No. What the Navy’s planning to do and they’ve been starting in the efforts is to flush it with about 25 million gallons of water. The, the well system that is, and then the plan after that is to go into the homes and flush out the homes. But with that much level of petroleum in the system, you almost wonder if it’s ever gonna be clean. I mean, these people have been displaced for months at a time over the Thanksgiving, Christmas holidays and having to take the cost of the hotels to, to pay, to be displaced.

Mike Papantonio:             How are the residents reacting? I mean, it seemed like they’d be marching in the streets about this. How are the residents taking it?

Joshua Harris:                     Oh, they’re, they’re outrage. I mean, there was a class action lawsuit filed at the end of December that they’re trying to hold these management companies accountable because they’re not doing what they need.

Mike Papantonio:             The management companies. Now tell, talk about the idea, the problem with going after the military versus the management company.

Joshua Harris:                     So one of the issues is that active service men and women and their spouses are typically not allowed to sue the Navy. It’s something that’s employed in their contract and they can’t sue ’em during the line of their duty and the undertaking of their duties in the military. There’s a small exception for dependence of those folks though. So we may see some litigation with that. But what the service men and women are doing now are going after the management companies and affiliated companies because they’ve breached their warrants of habitability, meaning that the homes that these people contracted to stay in and live in, they’re not livable. This water’s not safe.

Mike Papantonio:             Well, isn’t the bigger problem how do you, okay, you, you you’ve had this contaminant in your drinking water, you’re bathed in it, everything, cooked with it. And now you run the risk of all types of neurological disease, cancers, gastrointestinal disease beyond belief. It seems like they have to be monitored. Has there been any talk about the military saying, well, we’ll have a monitoring system. You can come in and we’ll check you out every couple of years to see how you’re doing. Is there been any discussion about that?

Joshua Harris:                     Not yet. You, you would hope they would do the right thing for the service men and women who are doing so much for the country to make sure that they’re being protected going forward, because this is catastrophic. I mean, you know, hopefully people aren’t affected by it long term, but with this much contamination, you can almost expect to see it.

Mike Papantonio:             Well, the, they’re residents beyond the military though. This is, is this moving, it’s moving into the aquifer, isn’t it? I mean.

Joshua Harris:                     It is. It’s going into the underlying communities. So we expect some of those people may bring litigation against the, the federal government and the Navy for this contamination. So I would expect through one of the class actions or more that they’re gonna set up some monitoring so that people down the road can get the assistance they need, because this, this isn’t over with a rash or skin peeling. This is gonna have long term side effects.

Mike Papantonio:             So they’ve moved, they’ve moved 3000 families. They’ve, although there’s 93,000 that they think they’ve identified as being people who have been drinking it.

Joshua Harris:                     That’s right.

Mike Papantonio:             Bathing in it, cooking with it since November, right?

Joshua Harris:                     Right.

Mike Papantonio:             How, is it, usually it’s just pure competence. Is that the situation here?

Joshua Harris:                     That’s, that’s mostly what we’re seeing here. I mean, they’re doing what they can or claiming what they can by moving these people, giving them bottled water. I mean, they’re even having to worry.

Mike Papantonio:             But, how did it happen? How did it happen?

Joshua Harris:                     The, well, they believe that there was a, a jet fuel that spilled out during a, a simulation or a practice run and then just, it wasn’t properly cleaned up in time. So that’s when it started seeping and that was the most recent event in November of 2021.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah. These people need to be medically monitored for a very long time because the, the chances of benzene, the, the, the effects of benzene and toluene and some of the things involved here are terrible.

Joshua Harris:                     It’s gonna be a long term, long term health effects for them.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah. Thank you for joining me.

Joshua Harris:                     Thanks, Pap.

Mike Papantonio is an American attorney and television and radio talk show host. He is past president of The National Trial Lawyers, the most prestigious trial lawyer association in America; and is one of the few living attorneys inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. He hosts the international television show "America's Lawyer"; and co-hosts Ring of Fire Radio, a nationally syndicated weekly radio program, with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Sam Seder.