REAR ADMIRAL BLAKE CONVERSE: Good afternoon. I’m Rear Admiral Blake Converse. I’m the deputy commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet and I’m also the commander of the crisis action team that’s responding to the contamination in the potable water system for our Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam military water distribution system. Today I am joined by the Secretary of the Navy, the Honorable Carlos Del Toro, and the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Mike Gilday. And before I get started with some updates on the status of the situation, I’m going to turn it over to the secretary of the Navy for some opening remarks. Mr. Secretary.
SECRETARY CARLOS DEL TORO: Good afternoon, everyone. As was mentioned, I’m Carlos Del Toro. I’m the 78th secretary of the Navy. And I want to begin this session by simply thanking all of you for being here today. And I am here in Hawaii because your safety is more important to me than anything. And being here is the most important thing that I can be doing. I’m here, obviously, as well for the commemorative events that are going on this weekend. I have cancelled absolutely every other engagement that I had planned this weekend, other than those most significant events, to be here with you, to learn about this issue at Red Hill, and more importantly to fix the problems.
Some of these issues have been going on for a long time, some of these issues are more recent. But it’s incredibly important for the Department of the Navy and for the Department of Defense to always guarantee that the water that you drink, our members of the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines, the Army, our Coast Guardsmen, and the people of Hawaii – who we have the highest and deepest respect for, is safe. And my commitment to you is that we are going to work, we already are working extremely hard, to find the root cause of this most recent incident, and to fix those root causes so that we no longer have to deal with this issue moving forward, and you can feel confident that the water that you are drinking is safe.
I arrived early this morning and I’m really here to listen, to listen to each and every one of you about the problems that you have been facing, to listen to our first responders about the challenges that they have faced in trying to fix these problems and ensure that you have the medical help and all the other resources that you need to overcome this challenge. So I’m here to listen. I deeply apologize to each and every one of you and to the people of Hawaii that this incident may have been disruptive to your lives in any way. And again, I reaffirm my commitment as your secretary of the Navy, speaking on behalf of the secretary of Department of Defense as well, that we are bringing to bear all the resources of our department, of our Navy, to fix this problem.
Doing so it’s extremely important for us to be transparent, to be transparent with each and every one of you individually, the best that we can. To communicate with your often, through social media, through direct means, through whatever it takes for you to receive the information that you need. We also need to be transparent with Hawaii, with Oahu, with the mayor, with the governor, with the members of Congress, the members of the local legislature, who care deeply about the people of Hawaii and also care deeply about each and every one of you in the armed services. So I pledge to do that, and we already have begun that process in many different ways.
I would like to thank each and every one of you again for your fortitude and your resilience. Moments like these are extremely challenging physically, emotionally, spiritually, and otherwise. And I attest to you that, having just come from the family support center, that, again, we are doing everything possible to make all possible resources of the department available to you. My goal is to try to fix this problem. And it begins with you having the confidence that the water is safe to drink, to cook with, to bathe with, to use in your own homes.
And there are many steps that are being taken since this problem first came to my notice that will be discussed here today in detail in a very transparent way with you. And we will then bring to bear all the resources of our Department of the Navy to try to also fix the more long-term institutional problems that may reside in Red Hill and throughout the distribution system, so that we can correct this problem once and for all.
So again, I thank you. I, myself, spent 22 ½ years in the Navy. I, myself, had four children, at a time when the Department of Defense often didn’t care as much as they did about the conditions of family housing. And my own kids, yes, experienced having to live in houses with lead paint and other challenges. For me, this is personal. It’s very personal. Just before I came here, I stopped by Halsey Terrace. I spoke to a young Air Force couple with two children I stopped by car, and I asked them: What was your experience, starting out on Sunday morning? They explained to me what they went through. We’re going to try to fix that. We’re going to try to take care of them physically, mentally, spiritually, working together.
I’m confident that our team can do this. I’ve met this morning with our entire staff, not just in the Navy but in the Army with representation from the Air Force and representation from folks in Hawaii as well that we’ve been discussing with, to get to the root cause of this problem. So that is my commitment to you.
Admiral, I’d like to turn it over to you now, sir. And we’ll proceed with the town hall meeting. Thank you.
ADMIRAL MICHAEL M. GILDAY: Mr. Secretary, thank you. Thanks for this opportunity to meet with this group. The secretary and I are here in Hawaii for one single reason: To listen to you. To understand and see for ourselves what you’re dealing with. Understand the root cause of the problem, and understand the best, most efficient and effective way to fix it. Not just this week, but forever. The standard for Red Hill needs to be zero leaks – zero leaks. That is the standard that we are pursuing.
In this room, beyond the United States Navy, there is representation that we should be proud of from every armed service, also from the Department of Health, from the – from the Water Supply Board as well. And those are critical teammates going forward. There’s nothing that we can do successfully to either get at the issues that we’re dealing with today or get us back to a restoration plan that’s going to serve us well for the long term unless all of us have compete visibility and are working together lockstep in terms of getting after a solution.
So as the secretary said, and I’ll just emphasize, a real important part of our being here is about transparency. And I commit to you that we are going to share the facts. We’re trying to do a better job of that. We know that – we know that we’ve stumbled. We also know where we can do better. The open communication in forums like this is really important for us, in a respectful way and a facts-based discussion we can really get after stuff together. We’ve got, you know, senior enlisted who have never in the history of our military failed to solve a problem in front of them. And they’ve solved some pretty difficult ones. So we’re going to rely on each other to get after this.
I think that there are three areas, and really the first two we’ll really hit on today. The first is for us to get an understanding of the current situation and whether or not the services that are being offered to you, being provided to you, whether or not they’re satisfactory. The areas where you’re not satisfactory, that we get that direct feedback so that we can fix it quickly. I would also say that there are – I know that there are websites and so on to register on, so that we can begin to collect data in a way that’s meaningful, that’s transparent, that anybody can see. And I urge you to sign up, and let’s make use of that so that we can get after things more quickly.
If your trouble calls that you’ve made have not been answered, then you need to let us know today. Those trouble calls need to be answered as quickly as we can get after them. And if we can’t get after them same day, we should be able to tell you why. So if you have concerns with respect to our responsiveness, we need to know that. And then today we’ll also have a facts-based discussion on the steps required to restore you to normal, right? To, as the secretary so aptly described, a water system that can you completely trust, that you don’t have to question when you turn on that tap and you – and you put your child in a bath. We shouldn’t find out that we have water – any contaminants in the water because your child has a rash. The situation we’re in today is completely and totally unacceptable.
The secretary and I have a job to do. And part of that job is to make sure that our families are safe. We have put you in an unsafe condition, and that needs to be corrected. There is no better way for us to take that first big step forward than to be here today to get that kind of feedback. I think in the restoration plan, everybody’s eager to get after this very quickly and get a solution fast. Fast is important. But doing it accurately is even more important, because what we don’t want to do is set expectations with you that everything’s OK, and a week later they’re not. So please bear with us as we explain the process, the steps that we need to go to, to get you back to where you want to be.
And again, as the secretary said, our goal is to provide you a completely safe environment, not just for your families but also, critically, for the environment here in Hawaii, that we all cherish. So with that, I will turn it over to the experts, and look forward to the discussion this afternoon. Thank you.
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: OK. Thank you, Mr. Secretary and CNO. The whole purpose of this is an open and frank two-way dialogue, and for us to hear from you and go get better in our response. But I will give you a couple remarks to provide you an update from our last town hall and give you some sense, hopefully, of the way ahead as we move down the path of restoring our water system.
First, I just got done before walking in here with a joint water sample of Red Hill well, in conjunction with the State of Hawaii Department of Health. And specifically, the director of the Department of Health herself, and their deputy director for environmental affairs. And not only did we, you know, conduct and monitor the execution of the sample by specific technicians from a third-party source, and we’re going to both take those samples and independently analyze them to make sure – and we’re continuing to do that day after day – but we also discussed the likely introduction of sources and how we’re going to go about validating that, and then recovering that entire system, and make decisions on when that’s ready for continued use.
And there’s a lot of engineering work that needs to be done. And some of that’s still being developed. And we have a large team of experts that’s on island. And it’s actually a joint team, and we have outside subject matter experts to do that. But it’s productive and it tells you that we’re working closely with the Department of Health and the state to make sure that we get this right, so we’re well aligned both on the potable water distribution system and on the entire aquifer and the Red Hill well itself.
First, we are confident that we have found the source of the contamination. And it is petroleum chemicals that were initiated from the Red Hill well. They were introduced into the potable water system and distributed, and that’s the source of the contaminants that many of our residents have identified. The well’s been isolated since Sunday. Our priorities for the crisis action team are, number one, to take care of you – the public health, the welfare of both the military residents of the affected houses as well as the citizens of the state of Hawaii.
Our second priority is to clean up and restore the potable water system and restore your confidence that it will remain clean as we move forward. And I’ll discuss that in a little bit more detail later.
And finally, number three, our priority is to diagnose and correct the introduction of the petroleum products not the well. We have some pretty good indications of how that happened, and we’re working with the Department of Health and other entities to validate those, and we’ll provide more details on that as we work through the engineering on that. What I can tell you right now is, from a public health perspective, to take care of the residents that are affected, we’ve been putting folks into hotels at a very rapid pace.
We have over 700 residents now in hotels, through a combination of TLA and contracts. And there’s more available. And we are eager to support. Contact the EOC, go online and subscribe, or go to either Task Force Ohana and AMR Reservation, if you live there, or go to the Aloha Center if you want to do that in person, and we’ll take care of you.
We’re aggressively working also – for those people that don’t want to move out of their homes but have been significantly, you know, inconvenienced by this lack of potable water and the lack of ability to do the basic things that you need to do to take care of your family, we’re looking at opportunities for financial support – something like per diem if you stay at home – not exactly that terminology. For those folks that want to stay at home but don’t have clean, potable water. We are – we should have resolution on that within this day, perhaps as soon as the next couple hours, if not by tomorrow. And we’ll provide you that as soon as we have that. We’ll first post it, and then we’ll put out a press release, and then we’ll come back and talk to you about that.
Finally, we’ve had great success with our joint service partners across the island – Army, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard – in providing services. There is now laundry service available. It’s set up at Hickam – or – excuse me – at the Halsey Terrace. You can go there. They will give you a bag. You can put your laundry in it. They will go do it, and they will come back and deliver it to you the next day completed. We have laundry – or, shower services set up for your convenience in a couple different locations.
And we’ve got both the Navy Aloha Center and Task Force Ohana facilities set up so that they can provide medical care to you, they will provide counseling, they will provide compensation, claims counseling from lawyers, and they will provide you guidance on how to access TLA or contracted housing, among other services there. The Aloha Center is over in the Moanalua Shopping Center, and Task Force Ohana, set up by the Army, up in the Aliamanu Reservation Crater at their chapel area.
On some recent updates: The Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Army Materiel Command are on island, and they’re assisting us in both our water distribution recovery system – recovery plan, and in our plan to recover the Red Hill well. We are already – we have already started flushing our potable water system. We started that a couple days ago. That plan was approved by the Department of Health.
We’ve brought in a team of experts that includes the Army Corps of Engineers, the Army Environment Command, the Army Public Health Command, and a field of external subject matter experts, including some university experts, as well as the Department of Health, to validate that that plan is effective. And the initial reports I got before I came here is they have validated that the plan that we have instituted will be effective in flushing these contaminants out. More to follow as we continue that work.
We have additional work to do to address your concerns, and we recognize that. We recognize that the initial – that the initial communications weren’t crisp, and in some cases were incorrect as we were diagnosing and getting to a consolidated understanding the problem. We also recognize that as we’ve put in place things like temporary lodging allowance and contracted housing, we had to do this together with the Army, Air Force, Marines, so that we gave you a consolidated solution so that we didn’t have some folks doing different things than others. And we are well-aligned now.
We also recognize that some of the tools that we provided weren’t functional. There was wrong phone numbers, there was websites that weren’t sufficient capacity or didn’t work, and there were forms that you tried to fill out that didn’t work. And we are aggressively working to correct all of those. And I hope to tell you here in the next few days that all those problems have been resolved, but we will continue to get at it. And we need your feedback.
As for our restoration strategy, the strategy for restoring the potable water distribution system is being developed. And that will be formally reviewed by the Department of Health, the Board of Water Supply, Army Corps of Engineers, our Navy Facilities Command as we implement it. We’re not waiting on that restoration plan. We are starting the flushes already, as an incremental step. That will also include, as the final plan is developed and approved, a series of water tests that validate the purity of that water to EPA and Department of Health standards. It will involve a series of flushes of not just the water distribution main, but of every home.
And it will involve guidance or, actually, members of the military service or contracted folks coming into each home and physically flushing out the lines of each individual home to make sure that there are no contaminants that reside in low-flow spots, local high spots. It will also involve guidance to you or fiscal actions to consider if we have certain things like filters or hot water heaters or other things. So we are looking comprehensively at how we will execute that. Once we’ve completed the flushing of all of those components and we’re satisfied with the water samples, we’re also looking at opportunities to do a continuous or a consistent and frequent monitoring system, because we don’t want to fix this problem today and have another problem and not identify it soon enough, and have more contaminants get in the water system before we get the next periodic sample.
So that will be part of our solution as well. And that is the path to restoring the water system and restoring your confidence that the water you’re drinking is safe. We’re also looking at a plan separately to clean and restore the Red Hill well. And that’s in development. And many of the same subject matter experts that are working on the water distribution system and working on that.
Finally, I mentioned that we’re looking at compensation if you choose to stay in your home. As a part of that, we’re getting ready to post – and we’ll do that as soon as we walk out of there – out of here – a joint public health guidance, which provides medical guidance on the safety of various functions with the current potable water system. And I can have the doc go into that more if you’re interested, or you can read it when we post that.
But in general, it will tell you what things you can and can’t do with the potable water distribution system as it stands now, if you’re in an affected and unaffected area. Can you clean your clothes? Can you do the dishes? Can you bathe? Can you drink it? And that guidance is all articulated in this two-page document. It’s been vetted with each of the service subject matter experts and the medical service subject matter experts. It’s been vetted with the INDOPACOM medical experts. And it was developed in consultation with the Department of Health toxicologist. And we’ll post that so that you have that available.
Stepping back for a moment, the purpose of this is a two-way dialogue. It’s to get your feedback. We are intimately interested in anything that we’re doing right now that you don’t understand, any guidance, or any actions that we’ve done that haven’t had the right effect, and anything that you need us to do more aggressively, better, broader, more comprehensively to fix the problem on your behalf. So with that I’ll pause. I’m going to start taking questions.
Before I do, on my left and on your right at the far end is Doc Mike McGinnis. He is the Pacific Fleet chief medical officer. And he will address any medical issues or public health concerns associated with drinking the water. Admiral Tom Kott is our Navy region Hawaii commander. And he specifically will address any issues with temporary lodging allowance and other things associated with that. Gordie Meyer – Captain Gordie Meyer here is our Navy facilities engineer Hawaii subject matter expert. And he can address questions on the water distribution system or on the Red Hill well. And I think you know these – the secretary of the Navy and the CNO. And I’m ready to address any questions you have on our overall crisis action team’s strategy to get at these.
OK. With that, I’ll pause, and we’ll start taking questions. OK, right up front up here. Please, ma’am.
Q: Good afternoon. I am Marmie (sp). I live in AMR. I am a veteran. I addressed you guys in the first meeting that we had down at the chapel with the Army. And you guys heard my concerns. Once again, I’m going to express them. I joined the military because it is my – it is my – like, he’s from Cuba. (Off mic.) Thank you. As a third-world country person, I devoted – (comes on mic) – oh, thank you. So, coming from a third-world country, I thanked the United States, and that was my duty to serve this country. I have – I address my concerns and my thank you to the Army.
Unfortunately, that’s not how I feel about the Navy. Sir, with all due respect, you said you’re here because you take care of your people, and you care about us. The Navy knew. This has been a long-coming issue. We got reports stating that you guys have found petroleum in our water ever since May. People have been – gotten very sick. We have a lot of veterans – I mean, sorry – vets here that have stated that – they have stated that a lot of puppies and families have gotten sick, and puppies have died because of this. The answer that you guys gave us the other day, it was not only, like you said, not what we want to hear, it was completely inappropriate, OK?
Army, they acted. They took care of us. They’re taking care of your people. They’re taking care of Coast Guard. They’re taking care of Army. From you guys, this is the first time we’re having open hall to ask you questions. It is very disappointing. A lot of the answer that you’ve given us, it’s, like, not to your rank. Yes, a lot of your guys, people, are concerning about the per diem. We, in Army side, are helping them. We are giving them whatever we need. SCOFI (ph) is coming down, infantry is coming down, generals one-on-one talking to us, we have AMR serving right now. You see constantly every rank there, sitting actively. Twenty-four hours of the day they’re standing there helping us, helping you guys.
I have not seen – I go there first thing in the morning to feed my children. I go there in the afternoon to have dinner. And they’ve been there all day. I don’t see any of your guys moving. Yesterday I went to the Marine side. Yes, thank you. They have washing machines and showers. They have nothing. I went and took it upon myself to buy them mesh bags because they have no idea what to do. You guys did not help them to provide them enough. They didn’t have anything. I went and asked – I’m sorry, I forgot his rank – Mayou (sp), Army side: Sir, can I have some signs so I can bring it down to the Marines because nobody’s helping them with any signs. I brought them signs that said: showers this way, laundry this way.
This is something that, I can assure you, is not only the four or five of you, or six of you standing here that are in the Navy. There’s a lot of you. A lot of sailors here can actually stand up and serve the community. This is – it’s disappointing. We heard that a lot of the test tubes that you guys have sent to the mainland were damaged, which is ridiculous. This is the Navy. This is not, you know, my teenager that just took groceries to the store for me. No. This is the Navy. Like I said before and I’m going to say it again, we got it. Things happen. But the answer that you guys gave us? It was ridiculous. The answer that you continue on giving us is ridiculous.
The island of Hawaii knew that this was sitting there since 1940. The jet fuel tanks have been sitting there since 1940. They were not meant to be sitting there for 80 years. You guys have 80 tanks, 250 million gallons of jet fuel, sitting on top of water of an entire island. Back in 1940, we did not have this amount of population. We did not have buildings. We did not have homes building on top of them. These are things that you guys know. We did not have – you guys were not serving all this population that you guys are serving now. Yes, we needed it for Pearl Harbor. We no longer need them. And if we do need them, we have to relocate them. They are on top of water. They are not meant to be sitting there for 80 years. It’s jet fuel on water.
You guys talk about fixing the error, fixing the error, fixing the error. Are you going to stop filling up the jet fuel tanks? Are we going to start removing it? Are we going to find a way to actually shut them down, providing a solution to where it’s not going to get into the water? We have a lot of people on this island now. I’m not quite sure how many people it was back in 1940, but I can assure you it’s not the amount of people that you guys are serving now. And it’s not only military. It’s local residents. If we stop serving water from our wells, we’re going to pull from somebody else. And then those peoples are going to have to stop getting their water. And then somebody else is going to have to stop getting their water.
This is not just military side. This is an island-side issue. Like I said before, you guys’ answers have been unacceptable. This is ridiculous. This is out of control. I thank you for all of you that finally decided to have a meeting now. We already had these meetings with the Army four times already. This is the first time any of you decided to come and have a meeting with us. When are you guys going to do something about the jet fuel tanks? When is it going to get – either stop filling them and actually – no just feel sorry – actually do something about it?
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: Do you want to address the Red Hill tank options first? There’s a couple questions associated with that, or a couple comments. Address the options that are being evaluated for the Red Hill very quickly, if you could, Gordie.
CAPTAIN JAMES “GORDIE” MEYER: Yes. So thanks for your service. And thanks. I remember you at AMR. Appreciate your coming here and hearing your feedback. I’ll address a couple comments, and I’ll try to address as many as I can.
The first one was the concern of the broken samples. And yes, there were some samples that were broken in shipment.
Q: There’s nothing – (off mic).
CAPTAIN MEYER: Those were Department of Health samples that were broken. Ours haven’t been an issue. So we’ve been working together with Department of Health on that sampling. And unfortunately, those did break. They had a couple that were still available to be sampled, and we have those results and we have been posting those results.
Going to your question on Red Hill and the security of Red Hill, obviously there is an ongoing investigation on all issues regarding that. But regarding the safety of Red Hill and the tanks, we are working through an administrative order on consent with EPA and Department of Health, and we’re looking at the long-term health that – or, the long-term work that we can do on those tanks to provide what we call secondary containment, to build basically a tank within a tank, to provide security and integrity of those for the long term.
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: And with regard to – this is the fifth town hall that we’ve conducted – sixth town hall that we’ve conducted. Two of those have been virtual town halls. The other ones were in person and across the various community centers. The first day, we actually did four, and then we’ve done five additional ones after that. We are very interested in getting your feedback, and your frank comments are a part of that. And I do remember your discussions when we were in Aliamanu Reservation.
And I will tell you that our Aloha Center and the Task Force Ohana Center set up in the Aliamanu Crater are – were designed to jointly provide similar services, although each service has their specific, you know, requirements. So that the Navy folks that are at the Aloha Center in Moanalua are specifically tailored to answer Navy and Marine Corps questions with respect to PLA, compensations and claims, and so forth. So if you’re looking for information from a Navy perspective, I encourage you to go to the Aloha Center. If you’re Army and you’re looking for information on those types of subjects, I encourage you to go to the Aliamanu Crater Task Force Ohana setup, which I have visited, and I have been in continuous discussions with the Army to stay aligned on the types of services we’re providing, and our capacity.
ADM. GILDAY: Can I just – ma’am, thanks for your – thanks for your comments. Can we make sure that as people leave they know – if somebody has a good idea – for example, your idea about signs, or if you see something wrong that needs to be fixed and you don’t want to wait till the next town hall, that you know immediately who to pick up a phone and call. Or even if you stopped at – let’s say, a senior enlisted or an officer, and just told them, we will – I will guarantee you, they’ll get on it. But I want to make sure that you have an assurance that there’s a path there, that you can pick up the phone and talk to somebody that can get something done, OK?
Q: Just to answer that to you, sir, like you guys addressed before, a lot your guys’ numbers are not working numbers. And with your guys’ chain of command, some of the Navy members aren’t even answering.
ADM. GILDAY: OK. At the end of this we’ll make sure that we – Tim, you’ll help us get that out.
REAR ADMIRAL TIM KOTT: Ma’am. Thank you very much. Master chief – my commanding master chief, he’s going to get your telephone number and we’re going to get back to you on an answer on every single one of our issues that you brought to our attention. So thank you very much.
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: OK. Over here in the front. Please go ahead.
Q: Hi. My name is Brandy (sp). I live in Moanalua Terrace.
I just wanted to get some answers to some of the questions that have been, I guess, unclear to me. My first one is, do we have an approximate timeline on when we’ll be able to use the water in our homes again? And then my other one is, I know you mentioned that you were going to do flushes individually in each house. I just wanted to know how you were going to go about doing that if the residents aren’t home. I work 12-hour shifts, and I can’t just leave my work to come home and be available for the water flushes.
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: Gordie, you want to take that, please?
CAPTAIN MEYER: Yeah. Great question. And thanks, Brandy (sp), for being here. I know it’s difficult for everyone, being here. And so thanks with that question. For flushing homes, we are putting together that detailed plan on how we do that. And so this is part of our PPV, public-private venture, Hunt Housing. And so we’ll be working with them to work that schedule. I know some work – some will be OK letting members in when they’re not there. Some will not. And so we’ll work that schedule to make sure you’re taken care of.
Q: Good afternoon, sir.
I have a two-part question that ties into that. On the – one of them has to do with the health standards, and the other has to do with the test results that the Navy released as opposed to the test results that the state released. The first, on the health standards, sir, yesterday it seemed that Captain McGinnis put out information that if you’re in an affected area you’re not to use the water to shower in, which seems to contradict what the state DOH guidelines are, which is that if you can’t smell anything you are safe to take a shower.
I guess my issues is, the only way we know if we’re in an affected area is by reading the list of communities that are affected. So we have to deduce on our own whether or not we’re in an affected area. Then we’re being asked to self-certify that there’s something in our water that we can’t see, that we can’t smell. And then based on that self-certification, that we believe that there might be something in our home on an affected area. I guess the quick question is, it’s a yes or no is, is our water safe to take a shower in and to wash our clothes with?
CAPTAIN MICHAEL MCGINNIS: Hey, thank you for the question. I think this may be a good opportunity just to give some clarifying guidance. Appreciate the fact that as this evolves, you know, in messaging there may have been some conflicts. And I think, you know, we’ve worked hard to ensure that we’re aligned across the joint force, you know, between the public health experts, the combatant commands, and the military treatment facilities, as well as the Department of Health. And to the Department of Health’s credit, they’ve been fully engaged with us every step of the way as we kind of work through these questions.
And I would echo what Admiral Converse has highlighted. You know, participating in all these town halls has been very helpful to get a sense of where we’re on point, and the gaps, and also hearing directly from the community. Just looking in the crowd, I see many that have participated in previous town halls. I appreciate your advocacy in ensuring that we’re staying on point and messaging correctly and getting the answers to you that you’re bringing forth – through the town halls and through all these other different ways of communicating.
But let me just clarify a few items here. So, in the home, if fuel odors are present or water is visibly contaminated, do not use the water. I think we’re all – can appreciate and understand why that’s important. But do not use the water for any purpose, due to the potential risks from ingestion, skin, and inhalational exposures. Refrain from drinking water or using ice from the refrigerator, cooking, or conducting oral hygiene activities, such as toothbrushing, throughout the affected housing areas, right? And this kind of goes to the point, to your question, about clarification to ensure that we really understand which areas that we’re looking at. And if no fuel odor is detected, doing laundry, dishwashing, handwashing, and bathing – short showers preferred – are OK. These activities are deemed low risk to cause skin irritation.
Now, this is the public health guidance, and certainly, you know, if you want to take a more conservative posture, absolutely. And we’ve created those capabilities where we provided those showering services, for example, and laundry services. Those are coming online. And throughout the Navy water distribution system, if you want to drink water that we’ve provided through our tanks and through the bottled water at the distribute sites, those are all available to you.
Captain Meyer, did you want to answer some of these questions about the housing distribution?
CAPTAIN MEYER: Yes. Thank you, Dr. McGinnis. And so, to be clear, if you are in an area that’s been highlighted as an area of high concern, we have done a lot of sampling and we’ve determined that we do not need to do more sampling to know there are issues with your water. And so do not use your water for any type of purpose, including drinking. If you’re outside of those areas, then that guidance that Dr. McGinnis talked about – if you don’t smell, there’s no indication, we have no indication to tell you that it’s not safe for use for showering, other purposes. And again, if you’re uncomfortable or don’t feel comfortable drinking the water, we have those water resources available for you to drink.
Q: And so on that, sir, can you follow up and tell us what those affected areas are right now that we’re not supposed to shower in? Because I guess that’s, to your point, right now I just left that conversation that we just had confused. And with all due respect, sir, it appeared that you said if you are in an affected area –
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: You know, Gordie, your guidance – Dr. McGinnis has – (inaudible). And so let’s focus on Dr. McGinnis. And that public health statement that Dr. McGinnis read from is going to be posted on our website shortly. We just completed developing that in consultation with all of the services and with the Department of Health toxicologist. So, that guidance is getting ready to be posted, and this is the first time we’ve announced that. And I think – that’s why I want to make sure that we’re staying in-sync.
Q: Can we, potentially, sir have as simple as a chart that shows affected communities, things that you’re able to do with your water?
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: And we will – we will post a chart alongside that guidance when we post that. There is – there is, as I understand it, Tim, a chart that’s posted which lists the affected areas. The reason it’s posted is because it’s dynamic. We have to make sure that that’s consistent.
Q: Yes, sir.
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: We validate that every day. I think it’s pretty static now. It hasn’t been changing – and could you go over the primary areas, Tim?
REAR ADM. KOTT: So, there are 10 affected communities that – areas of interest that, based on your calls and your feedback – we take every one and we plot that. And those are the 10 areas – three Air Force communities, five Navy communities and then two Army communities. We are – we are updating our graphics so we can depict that high-fidelity so you can see that. But I think what any indication is – Doc’s guidance is that, if you don’t feel safe, if it is not right, if you would like to move, we are offering – we will provide you temporary lodging.
Q: So, on that, sir – it leads into my final question – I promise I’ll pass the mic on – but it has to do with the self-certifying that the water isn’t right. So, I was reviewing – I spent the greater part of my day learning what a microgram per liter converts to as far as parts per billion and parts per million. And that – to be said – while the transparency of posting the results is great, I had to sit there and go through all the test results and then figure out that the weird U-shaped thing turns into micrograms per liter and that there is actually a conversion for that. What I found is that it seems that the Red Hill shaft, sir, reports in at 31 micrograms per liter, which would be 31 parts per billion, but all of their shafts reported in at 80 parts per billion on the Navy results. So, I guess my concern is that if DOH is reporting Red Hill at 89 parts per billion for total petrol hydrocarbons, why are the Navy results reporting at 31? And then, the follow-on to that is, when we’re measuring things in parts per billion, how do I know if my water is tainted? Because we’re asking to report something that we can’t see or smell, and self-certify that it’s there, sir.
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: Let me address that, please. So, out of – out of transparency, we posted the raw data from the results, because we got requests to not just post summaries, but to actually post the raw data, and actually, the Department of Health also posts the raw data. And unfortunately, there is – and I think we posted it, but I’ll make sure – there are some legends that go along with that, and the 80 micrograms per liter or parts per billion that you refer to for all the other sites, that’s actually the default minimum sensitivity of the instrumentation, and only the bold values are reflective of an actual reading or an estimate.
If it’s below the sensitivity of the instrument but they detected a result, they’ll give you. So, the sensitivity for that measurement was 80 micrograms per liter, but in all those that are not bolded, they didn’t see any indication. In the one reading that you indicated at 31 micrograms per liter, that was – and there was a “J” beside it. That is an estimated result because it’s below the sensitivity of the instrument, but they read detectable levels.
There will be variations between the Department of Health from Hawaii and our readings because not all the readings are taken at the same time, and specifically in the same location, but in general, they’re somewhat consistent. Now, with respect to your question regarding, how do we make assessments based on what we can smell and see, and when we’re dealing with constituents that are so low? The concern that you’re seeing in the homes is not at the parts per billion level that we’re seeing – we suspect – we think there’s some concentration that’s going on, because these fuel elements are lighter than water, and they’re rising in low spots and low-flow areas.
I will also tell you that the reason there is some guidance with respect to the – using your nose and your taste is, it’s incredibly sensitive. And, in fact, below the sensitivity of some of the instrumentation we can use even in these certified laboratories that we use. And in fact, you can – you can detect JP5 and the fuel for an average person at about 80 parts per billion, and gasoline at 25 parts per billion. That is at or below the sensitivity of this sensitive lab equipment we’re using. That’s the challenge that we’re running into. We’re worried about the concentration of those petrochemicals in your house, and that’s why the guidance sometimes refers to using your own senses and so forth.
And I’m sorry that we’re – (inaudible) – but we also have to recognize that there’s a number of folks that want to stay in their homes, but they want to have public health guidance. So, the general guidance is, if you’re not comfortable with the water, please go use the potable water system – what potable water that we provide via the bottles and via the bulk storage. But, if you tend to stay in your home, and you want to use it for some purposes, we will provide you guidance that allows you to do that. And that’s – Lieutenant, we’re trying to, you know, provide information that allows the maximum number of people the opportunity to use the potable water system or to make decisions on whether they feel safe to do that. And if you need more information, we’ll get together with Navy Facilities Command and the Department of Health and determine if we can’t provide some kind of a translation for some of these, because I recognize it’s hard to read. I’ve had to get a Ph.D. in that type of stuff – (laughs) – in the last couple days to figure out some of these things ourself. But I can tell you we are deeply interested in making sure that you understand and can make smart decisions, and that we’re providing you the information – raw data and processed data to make those decisions.
OK, we’re ready for the – did we answer your question, sir?
Q: Yes – (inaudible). Thank you.
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: Perfect. Next question.
Q: Thanks for being here. I have a unique kind of situation. I don’t think it’s just my wife, I think it’s multiple, so Doc, without giving my entire wife’s medical history into the news and the public – I’ll be happy to chat afterwards as well, but she had a vertigo situation over a year ago now, and then, on October 25th, we thought it was vertigo, and now we’re not quite sure. So, she – the main thing – she had the vertigo symptoms, we did the exercises. They seemed to work. We took a trip to Alaska – she had issues in Alaska, and then we came back. So, maybe that was just really, really unfortunate timing for my family.
So, we come back, we finally get into the PCM – the family doctor. She goes in, and the doctor gets a very curious look on her face and says, you’re the fifth female, varying in age range, health range, everything – like, none of them really match up – with vertigo-like symptoms, dizziness – I know a lot of people with vertigo and dizziness – they have trouble distinguishing between the two and kind of, what, exactly, it is. Headaches, nausea, all those kind of things. We did a pregnancy test. We’re not trying to have kids, so we pretty much knew that wasn’t the case. That was negative.
But the one that caught my eye when we went to the family center and we got the handout yesterday – or caught her eye, rather, when she was reading through the symptoms of possible fuel intake or petroleum intake was the confusion and altered consciousness. Both me and my wife are – we have the gift of gab, so I’m – she normally can tell me what’s going on with her, and it’s been kind of debilitating the past month not being able to understand what’s going on with my wife. I’ve been with her for almost a decade now. And she just – you can see it in her eyes. She’s not the same, right? And then, as soon as she read confusion and altered consciousness, she immediately was like, that’s it.
So, I’m not saying that it’s – you know what I mean? There could be some correlation, but the fact that there was five, six other dependents that were in the family care unit – my main question is, how far back are these thorough tests going to go, and then, doc, if we need to talk offline, because I know we’re trying to get more questions, we absolutely can. How far back are the thorough tests going to go as far as possible contamination, or if we get an answer on our long exposure, maybe? I don’t know, because I know other people have that question as well.
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: So, Doc, if you could address the medical issues, and then I’ll address the testing results.
CAPTAIN MCGINNIS: Copy, sir. Thank you for the point. What I want to take back, that I’ll look into, that I’m getting from your story is from the health care provider saying, hey, I’ve seen a cluster of cases of similar symptoms of vertigo, which – the toxidrome for what we’re talking about here, that’s not completely consistent, but I’m very interested in that, and I want to see.
You know, from the community perspective, you know, what are we seeing associated with this water contamination issue? And it’s really associated with the petroleum-based products, and it’s completely consistent with that type of exposure. And so, it’s nausea, vomiting, it’s the contact, the ingestion. Headache and the skin rash. But the vertigo is not classically associated with that type of exposure. But I’m going to take a look, because I’m interested in that comment from the health care provider.
Q: Right. And I don’t want to say it was exactly vertigo. That was just the assumption at the beginning. And she’s never had headaches in her entire life. My family has debilitating migraines, like – so I know the signs of that, and she hasn’t had that. So, thank you for that.
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: Hey. So, first, I’d like to say this: you and your spouse are why we’re here and why we’re addressing this as soon as we did, because you spoke up, you went and got medical care. We started seeing consistent problems and symptoms. So, thank you for that, and we’ll get an answer to you specifically after this.
The second question that you asked was, you know, have we bounded this problem in terms of the chronology of the events?
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: And I’d love to say yes, but what I can say is, you know, we have a couple of hypotheses on how this petroleum product got into the well. And we do and have been doing weekly monitor samples on the Red Hill well. I think it’s been ever since about June or July, as I recall. So, we have those results. And we just got the result back from last Wednesday, as I understand. So, our indications are, at some time between – sometime after maybe 23rd, 24th, because it’s – that sample was taken on the 24th, and we had no indications of hydrocarbons in the water then, and the indications we’ve seen with the trace amounts that were in there, and then likely got in the system and concentrated. So, we think it’s – the problem timeframe is somewhat bounded, if that helps.
Q: OK. Yeah, that was just –
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: More analysis has to be done.
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: We have – we have Army Corps of Engineer scientists looking at all of the data, all of the monitor well samples that we do, the Department of Health Data, and scouring it to understand, is our assessment correct? Are there things that we’ve missed? Are there other things that we could be sampling? So, this is – but that’s our best understanding right now of the nature of the problem. As soon as we figure out for sure – we’ve done further work to validate that, we’ll let you know.
Q: OK. Thank you. And real quick, I think a couple of town halls ago – sorry, this is the first time I’m able to come, because my wife is scared to drive – obviously, the sensory thing is kind of crazy. So, the test that I believe you said a couple of town halls ago with the sound issues – you guys were doing 98 percent of the in-home tests that were taken, but self-admittedly, you can’t do the more thorough tests without sending them off. So, were all those in-home resident tests only being at that baseline test, or are – and I apologize if this is a repeat question; we just had some sound issues a couple of town halls ago.
CAPTAIN MEYER: No, no, thanks for that. So, to clarify, yes, nearly all of the samples that we have taken at individual homes have been done with our in-house capability, that don’t go down to the fidelity of parts per billion.
Q: OK. So, are those being sent off somewhere, or is there another way of getting that tested so we know that the homes are safe? Because being the transparency and all that, right, is there another way of knowing that we can’t have that confidence in that?
CAPTAIN MEYER: Sure. Once we, you know, determine clear, and before we, you know, determine, hey, it’s OK to drink or consume or use the water, we will have that fidelity test.
Q: OK. Perfect, thank you. And just a quick – the buildings that aren’t homes. Will that be a part of a later directive of how to flush? Will NAVFAC be taking care of that? I mean, it doesn’t necessarily need to be answered here, because obviously, this is homes and all that kind of – I just wanted to make sure that was being addressed with all the plethora of issues.
CAPTAIN MEYER: Absolutely, yes.
Q: Perfect. And thanks to the Marines. You guys are awesome. You wash my laundry. Thank you. (Laughter, applause.)
Q: Hi. My name is Amanda, and I was at the other town hall on base the other day. I want to thank a master sergeant who assisted me with ensuring that my family, including my foster children, could get a hotel. I was assisted immediately. So, thank you very much. I was wondering – I’m still waiting on the results from a gentleman who’s active duty named Curtis Smith (sp) who came Tuesday, November 30th, to my house. And I understand it would take three to four days – we’re past that, and I’m trying to understand when I would get those results of my water test. I do know that there is something wrong with it, as Representative Kahele brought my water to Congress – to Capitol Hill. So, I already know, but I would like to compare the tests.
So, that’s one question. My next question is, are you guys testing the air quality in homes that are affected due to the fact of the fumes coming through? As my family personally has experienced health issues regarding this matter. And then, are you guys also looking at sick leave reimbursement, as some people, including myself, are having to use sick leave due to this situation as well as – sorry, I have a few. I apologize.
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: Can we – I just simply will not remember all the questions, so let me address those first, and then we’ll get to your next set of questions, if you don’t mind.
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: So the first question you ask is, can we get a report of the analysis of the 30 November sample that was taken at your home? And the answer is yes. And if you get together with the master chief, he’ll take your information, he’ll give that to our NAVFAC engineers, and if that sample has been analyzed we’ll get you the results. And if it hasn’t been analyzed, then we’ll get to it.
And then your next question was are we going to do atmospheric as well as water sampling analysis. And we are working on an overall plan, and we have the scientists that are telling us how to manage and do this safely associated with the flushing that we’re doing that you may see in the home and in the neighborhoods, as well as the individual home flushing. And part of that question that I’ve asked and it’s going to be a part of that plan is, what is the nature and the type of atmosphere monitoring we need to do to make sure that the homes are safe when we do that flushing in those affected areas. So it’s a great question. I don’t have a specific answer. We do have the capability to do that, not perhaps to very low levels, but certainly to determine if there’s any immediate risk in the home while we’re doing those flushing. So great question. We are working on that. And then please continue with your questions.
Q: OK. My other question I had asked was regarding sick leave reimbursement. And then my – I got a call from Navy legal today, and that was out of the blue, honestly. And they said – when I went through a few items at the regarding you had mentioned filing claims. They told me that if anyone – if we – if I should file a claim right now, it would be denied, because the outline of what a claim incorporates does not incorporate what’s going on now, but you guys are working on that. Will anybody let us know when that is solidified and when people should be going to file claims?
On top of that, this lady who just left had a question because she had to go. But she was wondering if somebody has COVID and is unable to leave their home and unable to get somebody in, what are you doing for them? And on top of that, what are you doing for their – I know you guys are working on it and you’ve said you’re working on it for quite a few days. But for those who are choosing to stay in their home, quote/unquote, “people who can’t leave,” obviously, right – COVID – what are you doing for per diem? Or you’re not? It’s not called per diem right now. But you follow what I’m saying? So those are all my questions. Thank you.
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: (Off mic.)
REAR ADM. KOTT: So sick leave reimbursement, ma’am. Are you a DOD civilian? OK. So I will ask my legal counsel to look into that. Nothing’s out of the realm of possibility. I was not aware. Thank you. Purpose of the town hall for bringing that to our attention. So the master chief has that down. We’ll look into it and get you an answer back.
REAR ADM. KOTT: Second question was on Navy legal filing claims, I think. I would hope Navy legal meant right now that claim would be denied. I wouldn’t say denied. It would just be held in abeyance, because we don’t have enough information. We’re not through this crisis yet, so determination. So I don’t think any claim would be denied. I just don’t think action would be taken on it right now. And as we work through that, the Navy with our legal counsel, there will be an opportunity for that process to come to fruition.
And last, on the COVID, unable to leave the home, we provide those people water and services. And I would ask, if you know that individual, we’ll get her name to the master chief and get back to her. If you don’t, I’d have to ask those people. I don’t know who has COVID in the homes, so I need them to call the EOC so we can address their – each individual concern. We will address each one. But I don’t know who the COVID people are. So I encourage those people to please call.
Q: Thank you.
REAR ADM. KOTT: Thank you. Thank you for bringing their – that to our awareness.
Q: Okay, hi. I wanted to ask a question. We called the ELC because of our water, and no one ever got back in touch with us. So we called again. We still haven’t heard anything. I heard the Captain Meyer say that it’s safe to assume that all the water we live in Halsey Terrace is contaminated. And I want to know is that the reason why you all haven’t responded to us, or should somebody be coming to our home?
REAR ADM. KOTT: So, ma’am, thank you for being here. You just went to the front of line and you took up your time to come to this meeting. So you’re going to – you’re going to get an answer immediately. We do have a lot of indications. We know that Halsey Terrace is an area affected. We have a lot of data. But we owe you an answer back. If you call and someone says they’re going to come, we owe that to you. And it’s going to be taken care of.
Q: Okay, thank you.
Another question I had, you said that if we’re able to self-procure for TLA, that we could go out and find a hotel room. My husband and I have been out for the last two days. At every hotel there are Army representatives set up in all the hotels. So the first thing they ask us, are we Army? If we say no, they don’t help us, because they’re saying that they have a contract with the Army. So we haven’t been able to get a hotel room. So I’m trying to figure out what we need to do in order to do that. Because I’m telling you, I took pictures. The Army is set up at every single hotel, and their people don’t even have to go to the desk. They go to that table that the Army has set up, and the Army takes them right to a hotel room.
REAR ADM. KOTT: So, ma’am, thank you for that. So we have both options. And so we have Navy people at the hotels at the Navy. So if you have not been able to find a TLA hotel, first for you, ma’am, right now we’re going to get your name, and we have those contracts, where you can go to a hotel and check in and not have to find your hotel. So we have both options. I know it is confusing. It is confusing, and we’re trying to make that simple as possible. But we have both options. You can go find your hotel, which is right away, one of your choosing in the – (inaudible). We have a contract similar to the Army that you call in and say I want a hotel. We will call the hotel for you and tell you to go that hotel. And when you go to that hotel, there’ll be a Navy base.
Q: Okay, thank you so much.
REAR ADM. KOTT: But your issue is going to be handled probably in the next 15 to 30 minutes.
Q: Okay, thank you, sir.
Q: Good afternoon, Mr. Secretary, CNO. My name is Alexandra Cooper (sp). I’m a Navy veteran and a Catlin Park resident. I have four questions. I’ll keep them brief.
My first question is for Dr. McGinnis. I’m currently 12 weeks pregnant. My neighbor’s in her third trimester. I know that there’s plenty of other pregnant women in the communities. Is – are there any plans to set up a surveillance program for pregnant women?
CAPTAIN MCGINNIS: Well, congratulations on your pregnancy. And, you know, it’s an exciting time, and it’s a time of concern. I mean, as a parent, nothing can make you feel as vulnerable as trying to bring a baby healthy into the world, and to raise healthy children. So I appreciate that.
As far as getting to your specific concerns, you know, the questions are, this event, wow does this impact me and my baby, and in development? The long-term effects are poorly understood for the petroleum-based products for which is our primary thesis. We do believe from the data that we have, but associated with petroleum-based products, it’s difficult to assess, because it’s so limited. The belief is that, you know, there’s minimal risk, but the greater concern is we’re not – we don’t know right now. We’re trying to really identify what is that causative agent. And then once we have that causative agent, what are the health impacts to us?
You know, I think we can appreciate the short-term impacts are limited, but it’s the concern about those long-term things. And how do we ensure that we’re tracking that and then we can reach back to this event and potentially tie it to the exposure to the population? To answer that question, to really get at that, we are developing a registry, where we are capturing all the residents in the affected areas and building into a database so that we can track and move and monitor going forward. This is in development. It’s a joint product. You know, our community goes across the entire service. It also goes into the civilian and contract force, and it also impacts our Hawaii citizens. So we’re working hard on that. We’ve got public health leads from our different services to build that registry. We want to be sure we get it right. And then in that, we want to make sure that we have it easy to populate, because there’s data in there and the important data that we want to capture and placed in that database.
Q: Thank you, sir.
SEC. DEL TORO: Ma’am, if I could answer for a second, I’m actually in daily touch now with the Surgeon General of the Department of Navy, and I’m going to make this a top priority. We’re going to set up a separate hotline for just folks who are pregnant, and so that we can start answering all your questions as well and addressing it more specifically, apart from all the other things that are going on as well, too.
SEC. DEL TORO: And whoever mentioned the issue about legal claims, I’m also taking that back to Washington with me as well, so that I could discuss it with the general counsel, and get moving out fast on what the plan is going to be for that as well, too. So I’m listening.
Q: My second question is, if mass flushing is a part of the restoration plan, are there any measures in place to make sure this isn’t going right back to the environment, into the ocean?
CAPTAIN MEYER: Thank you. That’s a great question. Obviously, we are very concerned about the environment. So yes, that is an item that we’re looking at. So we are only doing systematic flushing in specific areas that don’t prevent any runoff. And so we are doing these in grassy field areas that we have taken soil samples prior to flushing, and we’ll take soil samples after flushing so we know if there are any issues or concerns that have been created from this flushing and keep it contained within those areas. Department of Health is very concerned about that as well and is very close in contact with us and ensuring that we do that right.
Q: My third question is, I guess at the beginning the CNO mentioned a database to collect mass data. Where will that be posted? Is that going to be on the Navy website that’s been posting all the updates to get all the registries, I think maybe I misunderstood but –
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: So this is the genesis – or I think it’s the database or the registry. And we have an existing registry. We’re trying to formulate and automate that and put it online so that you will have it available online for access to make sure that we capture every individual that was affected. And so, well, could you explain quickly how you access the current registry, Doc?
CAPTAIN MCGINNIS: Yes, sir.
So there’s two ways that we’re going to capture this. One was the registry that I discussed that we’re developing that’s going to be comprehensive. Regardless, if you visit a hospital with a concern or not, we want to capture the entire population that’s effective – that’s affected or impacted.
The other is, if you have a specific health concern or complaint, you know, the collective medical community has been leaning forward to provide opportunities for access so that you can be evaluated, whether that’s on the phone, or through patient encounters through the MTF with expanded access, or in the community settings, right? So I know that with the Army that we have that site at AMR, and the Makalapa clinic has had that out here. And so with that, we can provide you either through the phone or through in person, direct, you know, screening, consultation, discussion, if you have a health-care concern or an active health care concern and document that in your medical record. But the most broad way that we’re going to capture this data is through a registry, so that we capture the entire population that’s been impacted by this event.
ADM. GILDAY: The update we received this afternoon is that that database will be active within seven days.
CAPTAIN MCGINNIS: Yes, sir.
Q: And my fourth and final question, I don’t necessarily expect an answer for this today, but I was at camp Lejeune when people were filing claims about getting cancer from the water. People at Whidbey Island, I know, just found out that there’s carcinogens in the water for God knows how long. I lost my hair on a deployment in the ship. So what is the DOD going to do going forward to provide better, cleaner, safer water for the military?
SEC. DEL TORO: I’ll answer that question, ma’am. We’re going to take each one of these situations seriously, one at a time, starting with this one here. I promise to you as I take this back to the Pentagon, the Department of Defense, and we put in motion the pieces that we need to do to say everything that we promised we would do for you here today. It’s to stop the bleeding, which basically means stop the contamination of the fuel into the water. Find where – exactly where it’s coming from and put a stop to it. Get to the safe water that you need. Document the many issues that you’re discussing here at the clinics. Track those issues as we go along. Monitor both the short-term and the long-term impacts that may exist, address those as well, too. And then set up a process basically to address the legal issues and the financial issues and all those things that that you talked about. That’s what we’re going to do, starting right here today.
Q: Hi, my name is Richard. I’m a(n) Army veteran and a DOD contractor. My first question is, I can only imagine that you guys know from the Red Hill well, where all of that water goes. Like you have schematics that tell you where all of those pipes go. So why haven’t you notified – like you just said you’re going to tell us and promise us that we’re going to have safe water. Then why haven’t you gone to every building and every house and told them: Don’t drink your water, don’t use your water, because at some point you were supplied water from the Red Hill well? Like, out of an abundance of caution, right? Like, you don’t – you have sat up here and admitted that you don’t know, based on your test, how precise the water is and how much of whatever is in the water? So why haven’t you guys taken that step? That’s my first question.
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: Do you want to address the effort to reach out via social – via the various –
Q: Not everybody has social media.
REAR ADM. KOTT: So we’ve – social media, media – media releases via the news – and thank you for being here – on the Web and on our Web pages. We haven’t gone to every individual house with a person and knocked on any door to notify them. But if you are in this – the area that is served by the Navy distribution plan, which is located around the base, you are served. So there is a – we are working on a map to display what that area is.
Q: But, I mean, it’s day eight now, right? So, like, people that don’t have Facebook, people that don’t have social media, civilians, veterans, you know, retirees, they’ll – I’m almost certain there are people out there who do not know.
REAR ADM. KOTT: I’m certain there are too. We’ll work to get to them, each and every individual.
Q: I am going to give credit where credit’s due. I came to the town hall on – at Hickam and I spoke to you about I still don’t have housing. And master chief over here called me, like, an hour later and gave me a number, and they called me an hour later. And I still don’t have housing, so – (laughter) – but I just want to give you credit for actually, like, picking up the phone and giving me a call.
So I called the housing-assistance line, just so that you’re aware. It either says – the Verizon – like, Verizon’s, like, it’s busy and we can’t connect you, because there are no lines, or you get connected and I go to voicemail. And it’s Cisco Unity voicemail, and I’ve left about a gajillion messages. So, yeah, so for the past two days, since that town hall, I’ve been trying to contact them and I can’t get hold of anybody to get –
REAR ADM. KOTT: I or the master chief will call you back with your lodging accommodations.
Q: And then the last question I have, because I know everybody has questions, there’s a CDC, right, on – I don’t know what that is – healthy air. Like, there are families, like, donating water and, like, food and, like, things to those people working there, because, like, they’re going through, like, a gajillion wipes to, like, take care of kids because they don’t have running water. Like, what’s the plan for displaced children, right, at, like – and then, like, even those employees that work at that CDC, like, if you’re going to displace the children and staff them up – but, like, some of those guys that work at the CDC, like, they walk to work, you know. Like – like, this is causing other issues, like tertiary issues that, like, you guys might not even be aware of.
REAR ADM. KOTT: You being here makes us aware of it. So we’re providing water to the CDCs. We just had 75 hand-sanitary stations delivered. All the schools will have those. And they’re having the water delivered to them every day. It’s a great community effort. We’re getting a lot of donations of water. But we are procuring water, upwards of 50,000 gallons a day. We have assistance from the Army, and we do have the donations. But we’re making sure every location does have water at the schools, in the CDC centers, in addition to the five distribution centers for water. And then we’re coordinating with our local and civilian partners who are donating water to make sure everybody is covered. So thank you for bringing that to our attention.
Q: Hi. My name is Raven Graham (sp) and I just have a couple of questions.
Is the Hickam pool – or the Hickam gym, was that tested? Because we live in Officer Field, and that’s on the list to go take showers. So I’m just a little confused about neighborhoods being on the list but not buildings; also, like, the exchange that has the food court, but the NEX food court is closed.
And then my other question is how long has Officer Field actually been affected? Because we only got put on the list two days ago, and me and all the neighbors have been using the water and drinking it this whole entire time.
CAPTAIN MEYER: Thanks, Raven (sp). And so what we have done is we’ve tested the water going into that area and we haven’t seen any indications. And again, going back to Doc McGinnis’ recommendations, we haven’t seen those type of orders that would make it a concern for showering. And so we have done that at those locations.
REAR ADM. KOTT: And Raven (sp), to reiterate, so some of those tests do not detect it. And so I heard the term self-certify. So the way Hickam – the Officer Field came on it is because we received multiple calls, and it was believed – there’s no self-certification. It is – you say it’s bad. You smell it. And we take those amounts of calls, we research it, and that’s how we put it on. It was based on your feedback, regardless of the test.
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: And then there’s a final question on the water at the Hickam gym. And we’ll go back and take a look at whether that’s been sampled – I believe it has – but whether we’ve completed the test on that at all, and whether that falls within an affected or unaffected area and provide that guidance.
Q: OK, sorry, I’m just a little confused. So Officer Field is on the designated list. But if we can’t self-certify, like, if we can’t taste or smell it, does that mean it’s OK to use, or just not use at all?
CAPTAIN MCGINNIS: So I’m sorry. If the question is about drinking –
Q: For Officer Field.
CAPTAIN MCGINNIS: – for Officer Field, and it’s on the list that we’ve identified at risk.
Q: But we can’t – and none of my neighbors have been able to taste or smell anything.
CAPTAIN MCGINNIS: Yeah. So if it’s been identified in a neighborhood at risk based on Admiral Kott’s, you know, feedback, because people have brought up issues there, the advice would be not to drink the water. But if you’re not detecting anything as far as smelling and all that, it’s safe to shower, right; not to ingest but to do the surface application and shower.
REAR ADM. KOTT: Doc – just to clarify, if it’s on the list, it’s because people called and said I have a medical condition, I have a rash, and I can smell it. And that’s why it’s on the list. So do not use the water in that affected area.
The difficulty we’re having is in affected areas, by hundreds of calls, there’s people who don’t smell anything and have used the water and have no indications. So it’s a very, very difficult problem to follow. And so that’s why you’re on the affected list, is based on the calls, Doc, of people with medical conditions, and they smell it.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Hi. My name is Megan (sp). I have a couple of questions.
The first one is actually from somebody in the virtual. EFMP families cannot move into a hotel most of the time. They’re – we’re not getting whatever the per diem or whatever it is so far. So EFMP families are asking if it’s possible to look at compassionate reassignments for EFMP families if this is going to be something that continues, especially since this, according to multiple sources, is something that’s been going on for months.
I know personally, I’m an EFMP family and my son, he’s been very sick. It’s kept him out of therapy multiple times over the last six months, including right now. He’s sick and he’s been out of therapy for over a week because of this issue. So what are we supposed to do?
REAR ADM. KOTT: We’re going to look into that. We’ll look at – yes, you asked can we look into compassionate reassignment. And, yes, we will look into that. Thank you for bringing that to our attention.
Q: OK. The other question is we were talking about the impact on the environment from the flushing of the water. We’ve been seeing the sprinklers are still on in most of these neighborhoods. So our yards are all being contaminated with the contaminated water where our children are playing, where there are multiple things, wildlife. Is that going to be stopped? Like, are the sprinklers going to be turned off? Is the flushing from fire hydrants in our areas going to cease? Or is that water safe?
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: So as we just discussed with, you know, the – all of the water-distribution system, the main headers across the affected areas and in several of the unaffected areas have been tested multiple times. And they’ve been tested using a mainland-certified laboratory. And we have not found any contaminants in the main distribution header. So the risk has been determined to be very low for irrigation and other things.
Now, there’s public-health risk and then there’s irrigation and environmental risk, and they’re separate. So we are going to post the public-health guidance that’s going to detail, based on the area and based on other things, what you can do with various locations in the water-distribution system.
With respect to irrigation or the flushing that we’re doing, that is safe to do because we’ve gotten a flushing plan approved by the Department of Health and we’ve certified with an independent third-party laboratory that the water is safe to flush. We are still taking additional precautions not to extend it directly into the storm drains out of an abundance of precaution and in coordination with the Department of Health. And we’re sampling the ground that we’re doing the majority of those flushes with before and after to ensure that we’re not contaminating the environment. But the laboratory samples we have on that water in the distribution system do not indicate levels of contamination that would infect the environment right now.
Q: Thank you for that. Another question that is being asked a lot in the virtuals is about BAH. A lot of families are paying out of their BAH to military housing that they’re not allowed to stay in now, and now we’re being asked to do TLA and move, and that’s coming out of our pockets to be reimbursed later. Is there a way that we’re going to get our BAH back for these homes that we’re paying for that are now inhospitable?
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: So we are looking into the compensation for BAH. That is a long-term check that we need to do through our legal departments. And that is not a short-term answer. We’ve focused on the TLA or the contracted homes for the immediate response. And then, in the longer term, we’re going back to look at BAH compensation as another alternative or in addition; so more work to be done. We have taken that from multiple town halls and from multiple folks that have written in to us to look into that, and we are looking into that. But our number one priority is to get folks immediately out to a hotel, be under contract or via TLA, if you are uncomfortable living in the place that you’re at.
Q: OK. And then I just have one other remark. The PDF is still broken, the one that we were supposed to use for TLA. I’m not sure why that’s still broken. I literally downloaded it and fixed it myself in five minutes. It literally is just because the bullets are in there wrong. Why is that still broken? It’s been broken for two days.
REAR ADM. KOTT: So thank you, ma’am. We’ll – I’d like to know what kind of system you’re on. It’s anywhere from – you can – if you can give it to the master chief, because we hear that some people – many people are able to use it. Many people are not. So it’s from internet settings, cache –
Q: No, I’m saying I manually went in and fixed the PDF so that it’s no longer broken.
REAR ADM. KOTT: Can you send it back to us –
Q: I can. Mmm hmm.
REAR ADM. KOTT: OK, thank you.
Q: Hi. I have three questions, and then my husband has a few.
My first question is directed at you, Mr. Secretary. I’m a nursing mother. I know there are hundreds and hundreds of us out there. Is there any way that we can be on a similar list to those who are pregnant? Because the poison-control hotline and the infant-control hotline, infant risk-control hotline, have no idea what to tell us – to continue nursing, to stop nursing. They have no idea.
SEC. DEL TORO: As soon as I leave this building, I’ll be calling the surgeon general and I’ll be coordinating an effort, basically, to try to get all that information connected to here locally so we can immediately post it on the website and at least provide that first degree of information to you. And hopefully it’ll be good news.
Q: Perfect. Thank you. My second question is what is the efficacy of this testing if the contaminant is at parts per billion but our testing systems are only detecting at parts per million?
CAPTAIN MEYER: Thank you. And so, yes, we have, again, two types of testing. We have the mainland testing that we are sending off-island that will test to the parts per billion, the high parts per billion. And we have our in-house capability that does the parts per million. And so the parts-per-million in-house testing we do does not confirm it’s safe for consumption. It gives us a data point to know where the issues are and to what extent they might be. It’s really the parts per billion that are determining and used for consumption.
Q: Right. And I guess what I don’t understand is if that testing can’t show, how can we see?
CAPTAIN MEYER: So if I understand your question, that’s why we have said if you live in an area that’s of concern, don’t drink the water.
Q: OK, thank you. And then my next collection of questions you can answer all at the end if you do have an answer for them. But I am a resident in Catlin Park. I have been affected by this. And I want to start by saying thank you to each and every one of you for being here, for answering our questions, for now being proactive in assisting us in our activities of daily living. They are a passion of mine, as I am an occupational-therapy practitioner, and I appreciate the provided drinking water, both for handwashing, bathing, cooking, laundry, dishes. One gallon per person eliminates the ability to complete all activities. And a three-day turnaround on less than five pounds of laundry is difficult, but I do appreciate the effort.
We moved into our home in March of this year with our beloved, now-deceased dog, my infant son and husband. My husband has gladly and readily served this country, and I have stood by his side and stood up for this community on a number of occasions as a key spouse, as a friend and a mentor to both other spouses and servicemembers. And I have wrongly assumed that this leadership would be doing the same for us daily.
What I’m really here to ask is why. Why did the Hawaii Department of Health publish in September of 2009, in their frequently asked questions regarding the Red Hill fuel-storage facility, that the most likely catastrophic release scenario would be piping failure with release into the lower-access tunnel?
I’m here to ask why, in May of this year, that that pipeline released not 1,000 gallons, as originally indicated, but 1,618 gallons, of which greater than 60 were not captured? And this spill, per your department’s issuance, was released into the lower-access tunnel with contamination into the soil well above historic fuel averages for that area, which people state that they were supposedly difficult samples to obtain due to sudden limited access, though I cannot verify those statements.
I’m here to ask why, on November 20th, was another 14,000 gallons of fuel and water released again into the lower-access tunnel mentioned above? I’m here to ask why the Hawaii Board of Health and Water have had difficulty obtaining results for July, August, and September results, which are unsurprisingly as of recently seemingly incriminating?
I’m here to ask why you did not protect us when the most catastrophic release scenario happened in excess, when the EPA published material safety data sheets saying for both xylene and naphthalene, with repeated exposure such as daily ingestion of water, indicate central-nervous-system damage, liver, kidney, lung, heart damage, digestive-tract issues, drowsiness, dizziness, and other damage to vital organs, that naphthalene in particular may be absorbed readily through the skin and is harmful if inhaled?
Why have you told us that the water was safe to drink, to bathe in, while you waited for results that you already had? I’m here to ask why you weren’t a wingman to protect my 13-month-old son that I was bathing him, when I was giving him a sippy cup full of water from my faucet, when he has been throwing up for days on end?
I’m here to ask why you weren’t my wingman as my husband and I have had mysterious symptoms such as sore throats, burning in my stomach, profuse, unusual sweating, headaches unable to be mitigated, requiring multiple ER visits for additional medications, vomiting, diarrhea, skin irritation?
I’m here to ask why you weren’t there protecting my family when we made the heartbreaking choice to put my beloved dog down after a mysterious illness and thousands of dollars trying to discover why suddenly, after being healthy, she was having coughing, choking, vomiting, difficulty breathing, loss of appetite, depression, general weakness, intermittent dry and oily feces, shivering, head tremors, lack of coordination and dehydration? Because suddenly it now makes sense why she would seemingly go days without drinking water and then vomit after drinking some. I daresay that you murdered my dog. But causation is not correlation, so I am left to speculate.
At this point I know your seat has been hot for a few days, and whatever you knew before this incident became widely publicized and picked up internationally by the media is between you and your maker. But now I ask, with all eyes and ears on you, that you fix this, and you fix it honestly. And I implore you to truthfully let us know how long we’ve been exposed so we can take precautions in the coming years and decades. (Applause.)
SEC. DEL TORO: Thank you, ma’am. My heart goes out to you. To tell you anything different would be to lie to you. I have been secretary of the Navy for 16 weeks. I’ve just come to understand the situation with Red Hill. All I can say is, on behalf of our country, I’m very sorry that perhaps some of these challenges haven’t been faced in the past.
But I’m here today, and what I can tell you is that as long as I’m secretary of the Navy, I pledge to you that we will address all the issues that you just mentioned with sincerity, transparency, with a complete dedication to try to fix this problem. That’s the only pledge I can make to you. I wish it were much, much more. But I thank you.
Q: Thank you, sir. I have a much quicker question. For the TLA and the government procurement, it sounded like we were going to get some per diem at the last town hall, or something of that nature, to cover additional costs for lack of kitchen or cooking facilities. Is that something that is happening or is not? When I talked to the EOC line, it sounded like it was still unsure.
REAR ADM. KOTT: You’re talking for if you – if you get temporary lodging?
REAR ADM. KOTT: So, on TLA, you will get per diem. I think the number is approximately $140 a day for meals and incidental. But on TLA, you incur that cost upfront and then you’re reimbursed when you file the claim. And we’re working to bring on additional administrative people to process those claims, usually in 10-day increments.
Under the – and I’ll address it for people who went out and got the government so that we – or, we provide you room so you don’t incur any cost. You do have to incur the cost, but you will be – you will get meals and incidentals. It’s kind of like ELAY (ph). Save those receipts and go file a travel voucher, and that will restore you later, give you – refund you later.
Q: Thank you. And then my second question is for the Red Hill facility. It sounds like we keep calling the Red Hill well the source, but a well is a transient item by nature. Is there any issue with the possibility of is coming from the aquifer as the source? And water and oil don’t necessarily mix into a solution, so there could be pockets of fuel or petroleum-based that’s floating around but not – would appear to go away, comes back around to the well, is grabbed again, could come back in a couple of months when and we end up going back to our house?
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: So I’ll address that. So the answer is that the – we have tested other shafts that go into a similar aquifer in different locations. The only location where we detected any detectable hydrocarbons was in the Red Hill shaft, and that checks us out. So it’s localized, the introduction rate, and so that’s why we think it’s the introduction of the petroleum products is at the Red Hill facility into that portion – that pocket of the aquifer.
We are concerned about the distribution of that, and so we’re taking aggressive action to specifically localize the source, localize the timeframe at which the injection occurred, determined if it’s continued or if it’s stopped. We just did a sample today with – in conjunction with the Department of Health and did an inspection of that well that goes into that aquifer to help us work towards that answer. And then we are working with the Army Corps of Engineers and a host of subject-matter experts to figure out the course of action to rapidly purify that water in the well.
We want to start drawing water out of that well as soon as we can because we understand that when we’re drawing water out it will not distribute; it will be drawn into that, and then we will quickly purify it. So we’re working with the Department of Health. We’re going to be working with the Board of Water Supply, as well, to minimize impact to the overall water supply. And we’re working through all of the subject-matter experts we can gain availability to to aggressively pursue that plan of action. It’s something that we have to be deliberate about and we have to work very closely with the state to do that, and we’re doing that.
Q: I have a question. You guys are up there and saying that you guys want to be transparent – that you guys want to be transparent with the public and let them know upfront everything, no lies, like this is it. Can you guys be transparent with us and tell us if there was petroleum in our water July, August, and September?
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: I can tell you based on the monitor well results which were taken from the Red Hill shaft that we didn’t have any indications of petroleum products in the well at that time. And I have our NAVFAC Pacific commander here. Does that check with the well – monitor well samples we’ve seen?
REAR ADMIRAL DEAN VANDERLEY: Yes, sir.
Q: So the answer is no, there was no petroleum?
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: So the answer is we had – we did not detect any petroleum in the Red Hill well in any of those periods and we were doing weekly samples since the 6 May event, at some point after that – not immediately after it, but within a month or two after that. And we’ve continued to do that, and we’ve continued to do those weekly samples on that well, and those samples are specifically focused on detecting hydrocarbons in the water. And I’m going to – I’m going to give –
REAR ADM. VANDERLEY: Sir, I want to just explain a little bit more. So we do – so –
SEC. DEL TORO: Just tell them who you are.
REAR ADM. VANDERLEY: This is Dean VanderLey. So I’m the commander of NAVFAC Pacific and the fleet civil engineer, so the senior engineer in the area.
So we do continuous monitoring on a weekly basis of monitoring wells associated with Red Hill, and the purpose of that is really to check – to track long-term trends to identify whether there’s any contamination coming into our well and coming into the aquifer at large. And so over that period we sometimes do get readings, right? So I think you even saw – some of you had referenced some readings, I believe, in July. So we do see readings. We coordinate those with Department of Health and other regulatory agencies to monitor long-term indications.
So I wouldn’t – so, you know, what he said is correct in that we didn’t have any indications of effects to health. That’s not to say we’ve never had a positive reading or a detectable reading, but those are not only just to monitor for health but also to monitor for long-term health of our water supply overall, if that makes sense.
And anybody who – you know, I’m an engineer. Afterwards, if you want to talk offline with me at a higher technical level that most of you would be bored by, I’m willing to do that.
Q: So you just stated that there was a test ran in July that indicated that there could have been petroleum in the water?
Q: That’s health concerns in general. Just a transparent yes or no would be lovely.
Q: Because you guys say you work with the Department of Health hand in hand, but today they released the result saying that the test that you guys gave them that they had been telling the Navy, hey, we need these tests, we need this test that you guys took forever to get to them, they determined that there was petroleum found in the July, August, and September water tests.
REAR ADM. VANDERLEY: Yeah, so I mean, I guess we don’t want to get into a he said, she said with Department of Health here. We really do try to work collaboratively with them. My understanding is we provided them the results as soon as we had them available, but you know, I’m not going to get into the details of that. But so, again, you know, I think we did have a positive indication, and that would have been in the July sample, but again, it wasn’t over any – it didn’t result in us identifying a risk to health. It was part of a long – the long-term, and then those results came right back down again. So you get a positive result but then you get another one that’s negative, so when you start to look at long-term trends the long-term trend continues to be that there’s not contamination.
Q: What did –
Q: So you only took a – you only take a small amount of petroleum, but it’s fine because next month there is no petroleum in the water.
REAR ADM. VANDERLEY: We test every week. We test every week.
Q: But you don’t get the results until like a week later.
REAR ADM. VANDERLEY: Right.
Q: So –
SEC. DEL TORO: Sir, let me – so let me – let me just comment on a couple of things that as I have been listening. During the time that I’ve been here in Hawaii and even before, my understanding is that, one, we probably historically, OK, have not been testing sufficiently, perhaps, OK, because tests were not done on a weekly basis, OK, previously, OK? My pledge, however, is that we start doing those tests on a weekly basis and even looking at the possibility of doing tests on a daily basis where they make most sense so we can track them on a constant monitoring basis, so that we always know when those numbers flash for what – for different reasons, OK? And so my hope is that that will happen.
The other thing, too, is that, as I said, we want to be transparent. So I have absolutely no problem at all moving forward – I can’t correct the past – posting the results of the tests as soon as we get them – posting the immediate temporary one, when they come back from a more sophisticated lab is – posting the one that comes back from a more sophisticated lab as well, so there’s absolutely no confusion on the part of anybody – either the Board of Water or the Department of Health or the Department of the Navy or anybody else. Here’s the test. It came back, sits there on a website. This is what we discovered. OK?
Q: Sir, we don’t have a facility that will test the water on the island?
SEC. DEL TORO: And that’s a problem, and we need to work on that as well, too. And I hope to actually work with the legislators, actually, to try to get a capability here on the island that we could actually test the water. Actually, the CNO and I earlier today were talking about the possibility of trying to bring a mobile capability that would allow us to more quickly here, at least on a temporary basis – it may not be a permanent solution – but be able to test those samples here so that we don’t have to waste two or three days getting the finer results. I think that’s important. I don’t know why there isn’t a more detailed lab here, but certainly, you know, hope we can correct that in the future.
Q: The answer that we keep getting is that we don’t have the funds for it.
SEC. DEL TORO: I don’t know who “they” is. That’s a responsibility of the Department of Health.
Q: The gentleman sitting right there.
SEC. DEL TORO: Well, we’re using a commercial lab because we don’t want to – you know, it’s important for us – for you to have trust in our samples. And so we are sending our samples, our Navy military samples, to a commercial lab so that they can test them so that you then don’t question whether our results are valid or not valid. They’re coming from a commercial lab that we’re paying, not doing it ourselves.
Q: But the state of Hawaii offered, if you guys would fund it for the University of Hawaii, to use their labs to do the testing themselves.
SEC. DEL TORO: Well, I’d be – I’d be happy to look into that option, obviously. But obviously, it’s not here today and it’s something we want to fix tomorrow. So I concur with you, we need that capability desperately. So –
Q: I –
SEC. DEL TORO: I know that there’s other questions. Sir, you have a question. Go ahead.
Q: Thanks for all – some of this. My name’s Larry Beard (sp). I’m from Neighborhood Board 18, which – this is –
SEC. DEL TORO: I’m sorry, from where? From where? I couldn’t hear you.
Q: Neighborhood Board 18.
Q: Hey, Larry.
SEC. DEL TORO: Thank you, sir.
Q: Hi, Larry.
Q: Our area.
Q: I’m right behind you, Larry.
Q: This is Chase.
Q: All right.
Q: Hi. I’m the Neighborhood Board chair for this neighborhood. My name is Chace Shigemasa.
The Neighborhood Board will be meeting on December 9th at Ohana Baptist Church. We represent this whole community, over 110,000 people who live in this area, and our whole community in the Aliamanu-Salt Lake-Foster Village-Airport Neighborhood Board, which encompasses Halsey Terrance, Rockford (sp) Terrance, Hickam, AMR, Pearl Harbor, you name it. Everything south of the freeway is our – is our area of responsibility.
I’ve been involved in this conversation all week. It’s been capturing all of my time. We’re all volunteers on this board. So I wrote down the questions because I want to make sure that we get them answered today.
The Navy stated that they worked in coordination with the Department of Health. However, from advising residents on how they can use their water being contradictory to how the water is being flushed remaining not in alignment with the Department of Health’s advisories, so why is the Navy not heeding the advisement of the Department of Health? And that’s my first question, if you can answer that.
And I – I’ll speak on to yesterday Department of Health posted on their social media account all Navy water users should avoid using the water for drinking, cooking, and oral hygiene. Your commanders continue to tell the public that if you smell no odor you can use the water. You continue to say that you’re in alignment with the Department of Health, and that’s totally contradictory to their advisory yesterday. Could you respond to that?
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: So I’ll address that. We have been consulting with the Department of Health and seeking alignment on the guidance that we provide, and our alignment in the affected areas is consistent with what you – with the Department of Health guidance. Our alignment in the unaffected areas – in the unaffected areas has been consistent up to this point. Our alignment in the unaffected areas, we are seeking alignment with that. That’s because the unaffected areas are provided – are sourced by a different well. And so we’re working with the Department of Health to get holistic alignment, and we hope to get there here in the next several days.
Q: Thank you for responding to that question.
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: You bet.
Q: Are you going you respond to the Star-Advertiser article indicating poison in the water since July? Because, you know, you guys say short exposure to petroleum has no long-term effects. What’s your assessment of exposure to five months of drinking poison water?
Q: Thank you. (Applause.)
Q: Please, if you want to respond, or your physician.
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: So I’ll turn it over to our doc to respond from a medical perspective.
But before I ask his response, the supposition that the water has been poisoned for five months isn’t supported by the test data that we take and it’s not supported by the data that we’ve submitted to the Department of Health and was posted on their website as we got the data. And when we find abnormalities in the sampling results that we have either from our quarterly samples or from the test monitor wells, we consult with the Department of Health and then take action as directed, because they are our regulator, to make sure that we appropriately – if the regulator says, hey, you need to take actions and increase your sampling frequency, which at one point they did, we did that. We conducted it and we monitored the indications, and they restored to normal.
So we are working every single day to stay aligned with the regulator and to stay in compliance with the Department of Health associated with the water, and we didn’t have indications that the water was contaminated for five months. If we did, we would have taken aggressive action in accordance with the Department of Health and with our own standards for providing clean, pure water and fixed it.
Q: So the test results that were released to the public that we read in our paper this morning, are you saying that that was false information? And – hold on, let me finish please – would you – do you sit there today and you say that the water has not been contaminated since July of this year? Will you say that?
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: I’m telling you that those results –
Q: Sir, it’s a yes-or-no question.
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: The test results that you saw, we are –
Q: Respectfully, Admiral Converse, it’s a yes-or-no question.
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: Do you want me to tell you whether the water has been contaminated since July?
Q: Has the water been contaminated since July, yes or no?
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: The water has not been contaminated since July with petrochemicals –
Q: OK. Thank you so much.
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: – based on the indications and the test results that we have.
Q: Prior to this meeting, you issued an apology on the way you responded to test results this summer. Is the team that’s still overseeing the test results still employed, or have they been fired?
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: I’m sorry, the team that conducts our testing?
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: Why would we fire them?
Q: Because of what the article said.
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: No.
Q: Did you read the article, sir?
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: I’m not familiar with the article that you’re referring to.
Q: It’s on the front page of the paper. I incline you to read it. I’ll move on.
Admiral Kott, on Tuesday I spoke with you during the meetings/discussions on the emergency order with the city and state leaders that can allow additional resources to be available to our residents and continued the conversation with you after the meeting had done – had been finished to expand on my request. On Wednesday, at the AMR meetings, I asked you to contact them during the meeting. Your response first was no. I asked for a commitment from you that you will contact the mayor or governor. You responded that you do not have the senior-level access to make such a call. The audience joined in my call for action and you committed.
On Thursday, you met with Mayor Blangiardi and his senior staff. Sorry; I’m a little emotional. They offered to assist on an issue of an emergency proclamation. It has become evident that you have declined such action. Now that the senior-level leader is on the – on the island, Mr. Secretary, Mr. Secretary, I ask you: Can you speak as to why this emergency order has not yet been issued? Because, as you may know, our congressional delegation has requested Navy leaders to contact the president for an emergency order. My question is: When will we officially state that we are in a state of emergency?
SEC. DEL TORO: This is a significant crisis that we are addressing head on. I found out about the contamination at Red Hill essentially on Monday morning. Shortly after the valves were actually – actually, the Navy found out here locally on Sunday and proceeded almost immediately, after some initial sampling, to secure the Red Hill shaft. That shaft was closed by – I think it was 9:15 on Sunday evening – is that correct, Admiral? – 9:15 on Sunday evening. Monday morning, as soon as I got in, I initiated an emergency task force in my staff where we brought all the assets of the Department of the Navy together to ensure that Pac Fleet and the folks here would have all the resources necessary available to them to respond to this crisis.
I personally spoke to the Hawaiian delegation on Tuesday and briefed them on the situation, as well, too. We have been in almost constant communications. So I have kept them as informed as I possibly can and I have addressed every possible question that they have asked of me. I told them that I’d be coming here today and participating in a town hall today – and there will be another media event tomorrow, I believe – to address these issues.
My staff has also contacted the mayor and the governor, and we’re also in constant communications with the mayor and governor, and deeply respecting their views and their requests and everything that they’ve asked for.
It’s my understanding the delegation has had other engagements with the White House that have not involved me.
And so I assure you that we’re in constant communications with officials here in Hawaii. I have personally also asked for a meeting with state legislators who want to meet with me while I’m here, as well, too. I’m perfectly willing to do that. So –
Q: And lastly, Mr. Secretary, are you able to join us on our Neighborhood Board meeting on November – or, excuse me, December 9th?
SEC. DEL TORO: I’m sorry, I’d have to check my schedule. I don’t know what I’m doing on December 9th. I don’t think I’m on the island, actually, on December 9th. I have a commitment on the East Coast. But certainly we’ll make sure that there’s proper representation here locally to come to the meeting and discuss any items and present any issues that you would like presented at that meeting.
Q: I’m sorry, sir.
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: OK. We have time for – excuse me.
Q: I am sorry, but I –
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: We have time for –
SEC. DEL TORO: Well, let her – let her make a question.
Q: I’m sorry, but this really upsets me because I have been asking these questions for over a week. Now, the secretary of the Navy just said that he was – has allocated all resources to this situation. Who has not been addressed in this situation for over a week? I have been sick for two weeks due to putting water in my CPAP. I am a DOD contractor living in Moanalua Terrance and I have not gotten any assistance. Every time I have put in a comment on the town halls, I get ignored. I did talk to – sorry, I don’t remember. We did have a brief conversation at the very first town hall, but there has been no communication to the civilians, the retirees, the DOD contractors, the DOD civilians on what our options are, and you’re just now telling me that we’ve had this ability to have something happen for us for a week. I’m a veteran. I’ve served. I served as a civilian for the Department of the Navy up in Bremerton. I have been working here for three years on multiple military contracts. I am a family member of veterans. It’s what we do. It’s who we are. And I’m willing to do whatever it takes. I always have. I was Coast Guard. I know. I’m always ready. I still serve as a safety and health specialist because I help people. It’s what I’ve been born to do. But to hear that they’ve had resources to help all of us for over a week and we haven’t – even today when I went to the housing I got three different answers from three different people because they don’t understand this terminology between DOD civilian, DOD contractor, retirees, and civilians.
Q: That is exactly what I – my question was, too, because I have had the same thing happen to me. I reported this on Monday, OK?
Q: There’s hundreds of us.
Q: There are hundreds. And I can tell you that none of these bases could operate without contractors, OK? God bless our servicemembers, and I’m also servicemember too, but you can’t continue to classify a DOD civilian as a DOD contractor and servicemembers and pick and choose who and how as you want to serve. We equally here have drank this water, OK? We’re affected by all of this together. So then why are you choosing to separate each of us and say you guys can get this, you can get this, but we can’t help you guys here? I can tell you easily when I got Moanalua Terrance – I live in that community as well. When I got there, they allowed me under the status not as a servicemember but as a DOD contractor to be able to live there. That was my choice, OK? So I chose to live there. I pay rent the first of every month, OK? It gets withdrawn automatically and it is freely accepted, OK? But to say I don’t get financial assistance or we’re working on it or my paperwork, my application for lodging, gets held up because of a legal issue or legal terminology between three to five hours yesterday when I went to submit my application, and then they hold onto it because they say it’s going to be pushed, there’s this – we’re working on the policy, the legal blah-blah-blah – and then I get a call this morning saying after it’s been changed – you know, the services have been changed, that’s when I get this amount of help or no help at all. Or I get told, yeah, you know, I – you don’t get any assistance right now.
REAR ADM. KOTT: Mr. Secretary, Admiral Converse, ma’am – and ma’am, every single resident regardless of status will be provided temporary lodging or anything you need. I will take your two needs and we will get back to you. Whatever you need. Every single resident. I know that we have 812 people like you that are federal employees – DOD employees, federal employees, contractors, and retirees. We’ll address every single need. I will break down every barrier.
Every system that supports all of us – the 19,000 – is not the same. We’re under – operating under several systems, financial regulations. That’s not a satisfactory answer, but we are knocking down every barrier, pushing the limit of the law to get every single person assistance. If you live in a military housing community, regardless of your status, you will be taken care of. That is my promise.
I would – I do want – do not –
REAR ADM. KOTT: Equally.
REAR ADM. KOTT: Equally. Equally.
Q; Because we equally share a burden of having this water in our systems.
REAR ADM. KOTT: Yes, ma’am. Yes, ma’am.
Q: And I tell you, like, I’m also a servicemember, but I’m an Army National Guard NCO in the state of Oregon. I go back every other month to do my service, all right? But while I’m here, I’m a DOD contractor, and that is my choice here. But I sure as heck will tell you, I arrived here in September and I had no health issues at all, fit as a flea, OK? I’m a tap water girl. I don’t want to pay for water. If I can reduce my expenses, that’s it, OK? So I’ll be drinking the tap water. Immediately, when I moved in in September, I started having incredible gastrointestinal issues, incredible headaches, all the symptoms on the sheet that we were provided yesterday at the medical center. I’ve had ultrasounds on my gall bladder. I have had ultrasounds on my liver and my kidneys. I’ve had blood tests come back. And I’ve had three markers and a positive high for lupus. The minute I stopped drinking the water, on Sunday – Sunday/Monday – less than 12 hours, most of those symptoms are gone. I do not have the headaches. My skin has come back to almost normal. I don’t have all the gastrointestinal discomfort – and it’s beyond discomfort, OK?
And I’ll tell you this, too. I’m coming up to 15 years this February with the National Guard, OK? I’ve had a combat deployment. I’ve seen combat. I have pulled triggers for this country, OK? But I’ll tell you, this diagnosis is a basis for discharge on medical reasons. Did you hear that? Did you hear that? And I’m telling you, I’m not just speaking for me. I’m speaking for every servicemember here, all the other servicemembers who are working right now, passing out water, doing stuff in the medical field. I’m talking about every – this is just a 50-meter, 25-meter target, OK? We got hundred-meter, 200, 300. We have all of that to worry about.
And that’s all I have to say.
SEC. DEL TORO: Thank you, ma’am, and you’re absolutely right. I was a DOD contractor myself for 17 years, and if you must know my wife has lupus. So do I hear you? I hear you loud and clear.
Am I committed to doing what we need to do moving forward to fix this? Yes, we are. I will do everything that we can, absolutely. I hear you loud and clear.
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: OK. We’re going to take one more question. Please go ahead.
Q: OK. I have a few questions, not just one.
At the beginning of this you guys said that you were coming here to listen, and now you’re saying you’re only taking one more question. There is a million people back here who still have questions. So are you actually here to listen, or are you just here for the PR? Which one is it?
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: No, we’re going to – we’re going to take a pause and let some folks that have some meetings and so forth to leave. But we will have someone here and I will stay here to answer the rest of the questions. Go ahead.
Q: But can you answer the medical questions or any of those questions if people still have that?
SEC. DEL TORO: Ma’am, we will stay here as long as you need to. Unfortunately, the CNO and myself actually need to leave because we are actually meeting with the Honolulu water – director, Board of Water Supply, OK, and we feel that it is an important meeting that we should also be at to try to start fixing this problem together. So –
Q: OK. That’s understandable, but –
SEC. DEL TORO: We will answer all your questions, and so please just take your time and ask your questions.
Q: OK. So my first question is off of – I guess the gentleman left. But I am a DOD civilian employee for the Navy. I work at the Navy CYP. I am a childcare professional. I am a teacher. All I keep hearing is you guys saying that, yes, you’re distributing water, you’re – but that’s not helping. We have up to 24 kids in a class. You know how hard it is to use one of those one Gatorade containers to wash 24 kids’ hands? That’s hard, on top of, you know, it’s not – it’s not easy being a teacher. I’ll be the first to say that I love what I do, but it is not easy being a teacher. And I have preschoolers, so – and that’s a lot of water that we’re going through. My daughter attends the CDC that I work at and I have a lot of kids who are sick, and I love those kids just as much as I love my own – I always say those are my kids. Those are my babies. What are you going to actually do to help us at the CDC just besides just giving us water?
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: OK, I can address that. I did visit the CDC director this week, and we’ve committed to providing laundry services. I’ve committed to sending some of our Navy facilities folks and some of our folks from region to assist in setting up some engineering solutions to make it easier to do handwashing and other things. And we’ve committed to take a look at what we can do to defray the costs if we have to use additional wipes and additional things.
What we don’t want to happen is to make it any harder on you as a teacher to do your job. And I’m sorry if we’ve been not as responsive as we can. I didn’t get over to the CDC director until Friday, but we took on these concerns. I don’t want any of our teachers having to do laundry because they don’t – they’re not comfortable with doing the laundry at the location. I want to be able to provide that service to you. I don’t want you to have to have any expenses. I don’t want you to have to carry water. I don’t want you to have to worry about the wastewater from these hand-treatment facilities. We are trying – we will get solutions for each one of those issues to you. And if you have any specific things that we can do, I’ll stay after and you can provide me guidance on what we can help you out with.
I did visit. We are – we did take a list of actions to do. And then we will revisit this week to ensure that those actions get complete so we can support our CDCs. We also did that with our local elementary schools and other schools that are affected. So we are working to help to make – to minimize the impact of this issues on those facilities.
Continue with your questions, please.
Q: Well, continuing off the CDC stuff, I haven’t seen anybody – I work 7:30 in the morning to 4:30 in the afternoon and I haven’t seen anybody come into our CDC to look at what we’re doing. I haven’t heard of any of you guys coming to any of our CDCs to come and look at what we’re going through right now. So, I mean, I see you guys say that you’re going to, you know, do this and that, but how much of a priority are we actually going to be? Like, we have a billion kids in daycare right now and daycares are already a germ infestation as it is. You know, kids aren’t the cleanest. So, I mean – I mean, how much of a priority are you going to make this going forward? Because we need help.
REAR ADM. CONVERSE: It is a high priority and we’ll revisit those CDCs again on Monday. And we have a representative from region that’s calling on them every single day to determine if there’s additional things we could do. It’s Jordan, I believe, coming. And I’ve been visiting every one of these to ensure that line of communication remains open.
Q: OK. One more question. I live here in this community here and we’ve been on the list as people who can receive help with housing and stuff like that, and then we were taken off the list. I have neighbors and friends in this community whose children are very ill and whose skin is just awful, I mean as red as our flag. And so I want to know, is there – can we say right now what neighborhoods are on the list? Because we have people who have called in this neighborhood and are saying that, no, we’re not on the list. They say we can’t get it. But their water is just as nasty as anybody else’s that’s having problems. So can you name the names of the neighborhoods right now that are on the list?
REAR ADM. KOTT: I can name the names of the neighborhoods in the highly-affected areas, but anybody who desires lodging is entitled to lodging.
Q: You say that, but I was in this neighborhood too, and there are multiple who have called from this neighborhood and we’ve been denied because we’re not on that list.
REAR ADM. KOTT: I have to correct that. I apologize. I have to talk to my team again. Let’s get that message clearly. I apologize.
SEC. DEL TORO: What’s the name of the –
REAR ADM. KOTT: Halemuku.
Q: Halemuku and Okolani.
Q: Also Onizuka.
Q: And we’ve been taken off twice.
REAR ADM. KOTT: You’ll be put on tonight. You’ll be taken care of tonight.
Q: It was – (inaudible).
SEC. DEL TORO: We’ll make – we’ll make sure that it gets put on the list, absolutely.
Q: That’s another thing, too: Why aren’t we on the affected neighborhoods list? Because I know plenty of my neighbors have been affected and their kids have been affected by the water.
Q: See, now there’s 20 people that I know who’ve called the EOC about it.
Q: Exactly. Why aren’t we on the list?
REAR ADM. KOTT: We’ll put you on the list. We had – analyze the data. What neighborhood are you in, ma’am?
REAR ADM. KOTT: OK.
REAR ADM. KOTT: First thing is you’re entitled to lodging. We’ll put you on the list.
Q: Also – (inaudible).
REAR ADM. KOTT: Yes, sir.
SEC. DEL TORO: Again, I do apologize, but both of us need to leave because we do want to meet with other officials in trying to fix this problem and I’m trying to maximize all my time as late into the evening as I – as I need to here. Like I said, I have set aside all my other schedules that aren’t associated with commemoration of the Pearl Harbor Day weekend. But my promise to you is that, you know, we just don’t leave here and forget about you.
I meet with my staff every single day. I met with my staff today, on Sunday. I pulled them out and we addressed all these issues to try to bring to bear all the resources that we need to do and will continue to do to fix these problems.
And I will finish off where I started: I apologize to each and every one of you for the angst that we have caused you. And all I can do moving forward is to try to fix the problem. Thank you.
Q: Can I suggest the Navy not limit the amount of water each person is getting per day?
SEC. DEL TORO: I’ve already –
Q: One gallon is not enough for –
SEC. DEL TORO: I’ve already written that one down to fix. Absolutely, we will start providing more water to you and more water to the CDCs. I already have on my calendar to visit the CDC tomorrow. So, yes, absolutely. And any other wonderful ideas that you have that make sense, we will correct those and implement them as well, too. Absolutely.
Q: Mr. Secretary, I suggest you probably go down to Task Force Ohana, because down there in AMR the Army is taking care of everybody – everybody. They have folks just walking around neighborhoods –
SEC. DEL TORO: I understand, and we thank you for those comments. I met with the Army this morning, and the thing I said to the Army? This isn’t about the Army. This isn’t about the Navy. It’s about all of us working together to solve this problem. We have a responsibility to supply proper water to those Navy housing units, as well, too. And my commitment is equal across all service categories. And if there’s things that they’re doing better than we are, that’s perfectly fine; we are going to implement those things and start doing them better as well, too. That is what we need to do.
They have different challenges. They have a different housing base. They may have done things differently when this all started. We also have different responsibilities. We have different housing bases. We were doing things differently when this started. We’re coming together to make sure that we’re actually working together – Marines, airmen, Army soldiers, all of us – to try to address the problems. And again, I can’t fix the problems of the past; I can only fix things moving forward.
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