Schools supplied by Navy Water Scramble to provide students with water and food

At a time when the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has already disrupted the normal functioning of schools, the Navy Red Hill water crisis has created additional challenges for some schools.

Crates of bottled water, portable water stations, hand wipes, and late deposits by families who have moved from their contaminated residences are part of the new routine in Department of Education schools. ‘Hawaii on the Navy water supply line.

Seven DOE schools are served by this source, all elementary schools, depending on the department: Red Hill, Nimitz, Pearl Harbor, Pearl Harbor Kai, Hickam, Mokulele, and Iroquois Point. Together, these schools serve approximately 3,000 students.

At least seven DOE schools are served by the Navy’s water supply line and pay their utilities to Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command. Here, a demonstration in front of the State Capitol. Cory Lum / Civil Beat / 2021

The Navy Public Affairs Office said it also supplied water to private centers such as Holy Family Catholic Academy, Kamaaina Kids, Navy Hale Keiki School, Montessori Center of Pearl Harbor, ASSETS and Iroquois Point Preschool. It also included Aliamanu Elementary and Middle Schools as schools served by the DOE in a list provided to Civil Beat.

The state Department of Health recommends that users of Navy system water avoid using the water for drinking or cooking or for oral hygiene. In schools, that means replacing regular school meals with ready-to-heat pizzas, turning off taps in some places, and receiving numerous donations of bottled water.

“At our school, we didn’t feel anything, but because we are on the base, as soon as it came out on the news, our principal decided to be safe,” said Michele Sasaki, kindergarten teacher. at elementary Hickam.

The school did not use running tap water – even for basic hand washing – except to flush the toilet.

Many of its students who are with military families and live in affected areas have been temporarily relocated to hotels in Waikiki, due to contaminated water in their homes. This means that many parents had to make the long drive from Waikiki to the Pearl Harbor base – up to half an hour or more with traffic – to get their kids to school.

“You will hear them talking about whether they have to leave very early or sometimes families just go to a hotel to shower and stay at home,” Sasaki said. “As a school, we have given grace. If (the students) are late, we understand since they are from Waikiki.

The military had also provided a round-trip shuttle service between some stops in Waikiki and the affected areas, but that stopped on Friday morning.

With schools suspended for two weeks on Monday for winter break, some of the pressure is lifted as schools and staff regroup and try to catch their breath. But it’s unclear how long the no-use water directive will last, or when the state’s health ministry deems it safe to use school water again for drinking and drinking. food preparation.

DOE spokeswoman Nanea Kalani said the facilities branch has been providing clean water to its seven affected schools since December 1 for drinking, hand washing, cooking and food preparation.

“Schools are responsible for monitoring their water consumption and have been asked to conserve water,” she said by email. “Schools let the Department know when they need to reorganize further. “

On December 1, the DOH said a preliminary result of a water sample taken at Red Hill Elementary and analyzed at a University of Hawaii lab found it to contain petroleum product. Yet on December 3, the DOH said water samples taken on November 29 at Nimitz Elementary and Pearl Harbor Elementary tested negative for petroleum.

Despite the negative results, DOH spokesperson Kaitlin Arita-Chang said on Friday: “I want to stress that our no-drink advisory still applies to all users of the water supply system in the city. Navy, including schools “.

The Navy’s water supply line serves approximately 93,000 customers in total, and the water contamination has displaced up to 3,200 families. The complaints began over Thanksgiving weekend as families reported the water smelled of fuel and exhibited symptoms such as rashes, headaches, dizziness and vomiting.

This water distribution system is a vast network encompassing central Oahu and the edges of the Leeward Coast. Reports of health problems have been spread in.

Red Hill’s aging bulk fuel storage facility, the suspected source of contamination, sits just 100 feet above the aquifer that provides about 77% of Oahu’s drinking water.

DOH’s Arita-Chang said her department is working with the United States Navy, Army and Environmental Protection Agency to develop common guidelines for schools to use water. The DOH collects water samples every day and publishes the results as they come back.

Even when the tests are negative, the DOH notes that “sampling only captures contaminant levels at a given time” and it still recommends users not to consume the water.

State Representative Matt LoPresti, whose district includes Ewa Beach where Iroquois Point Elementary School is located, has regularly posted updates on the Kapilina Beach Homes complex, where many families have said they have been sickened. by water, according to KHON2.

“So yes the test results were negative, and yes people have had legitimate health problems after coming into contact with water in their homes. Both can obviously be true, ”LoPresti wrote.

According to SueAnn Thomas, an elementary school teacher at Iroquois Point, Thursday, “there is no smell, shine or evidence that the water is contaminated.” She said the school did not turn off tap water but relied on bottled water and that hot meals were prepared at nearby Campbell High.

“I think it’s important to take these precautions ahead of time,” Thomas said. “If there is a potential danger that could happen to these children at school, they are not in a safe environment. It is important to provide them with bottled water to drink.

“The general chaos of being in a school with hundreds of children – and trying to keep them safe and healthy during the pandemic and the water contaminated situation – it’s good to make a pause and take a step back and really take time for ourselves and our families, ”she added.

Additionally, the Leeward Chapter of the Hawaii State Teachers Association voted last week to call for the Red Hill fuel tank system to be decommissioned and plans to ask the HSTA board of directors to do the same.

“The impact of this fuel leak touches so many of us – at work, at home, at school,” said Julie Reyes Oda, Leeward Chapter President and teacher at Nanakuli High and Intermediate. “Everyone deserves to have clean drinking water, period. We must unite to support safe drinking water for all.

Hawaii Governor David Ige ordered the Navy to empty WWII bulk fuel storage tanks and install a drinking water treatment system, but the Navy said she would fight against this order. A hearing is due to take place on Monday morning.

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