HONOLULU — Four families filed a federal lawsuit against the United States alleging “negligence, trespass, nuisance, and medical malpractice resulting in physical and emotional injuries” caused by the jet fuel leaks that contaminated drinking water in Oahu on Wednesday.
The families are trying to hold the U.S. military accountable for tainting public drinking water with jet fuel from the Red Hill bulk fuel storage facility near Pearl Harbor.
Austin-based Just Well Law and Honolulu-based Hosoda Law Group filed the lawsuit in the District of Hawaii on behalf of the Feindt, Freeman, Simic and Wyatt families. The lawsuit was filed under the Federal Torts Claims Act, which states that the U.S. “shall be liable for actual or compensatory damages.”
The families are looking for “accountability and the truth and change,” Kristina Baehr, attorney for Just Well Law, told USA TODAY. She started filing tort claims for families earlier this year.
This case “signifies an opportunity for change because the government is not going to make change unless they are held accountable,” she said. “They didn’t warn these families that their water was contaminated when they knew it was contaminated – that’s poisoning.”
Amanda Feindt, an active military member and one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, called the filing “monumental.”
“There was no sense of urgency (by the military), no accountability for (the water contamination), no apology to parents for lying to us,” she said.
Feindt said her family can’t afford testing and medical treatment caused by the contaminated water. “Our only option is to file a lawsuit,” she said. “My thought is if you’re poisoned by the military, you’re covered by the military for life.”
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In 2021, two jet fuel leaks occurred at the Navy’s Red Hill bulk fuel storage facility – one in May and one in November, with the latter totaling around 19,000 gallons. Due to the leaks, petroleum and other toxic chemicals entered the local water supply, which around 93,000 people use. The lawsuit alleges that the second leak was caused by a “negligent ‘operator error.'”
The Navy failed to immediately disclose news of the fuel leak to families, who continued to consume tap water. Families were often given conflicting updates about the drinking water.
Feindt told USA TODAY her family moved into military housing at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in early May and experienced symptoms of being sick “almost immediately.” They had no idea about the May spill. “We just assumed we would be informed of any public health issue, which is anyone’s expectation, especially when you’re living on a military base,” she said.
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Since then, Feindt said her family’s life has “turned completely upside down.”
When her family felt sick, Feindt said they were denied toxicology testing by military doctors. After months of asking about safety protocols, she chose to pull her two young children – a two-year-old son and four-year-old daughter – out of the Child Development Center, which was also located on the contaminated water line.
Following months of advocating and living in a hotel, her family was compassionately reassigned to Colorado. Her husband has had to quit his job and is unable to work because he’s “in so much pain,” Feindt said, and experiencing internal bleeding and gastrointestinal issues. As detailed in the suit, her children are experiencing “behavioral issues.”
Since March 2022, the government has consistently said the water is safe for drinking, although many have said they continue to feel sick.