University of Hawaiʻi Study Reveals Health Risks from Chlorine and Petroleum in Water

A University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa study reveals that mixing chlorine with petroleum in water can produce harmful byproducts, including Total Trihalomethanes (THM4) and Haloacetic Acids (HAA5), which are linked to an increased risk of cancer and liver damage, following a 2021 jet fuel leak from the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi, that contaminated a Navy drinking water system and affected hundreds of families." This description focuses on the primary topic of the study's findings, the main entity of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, the context of the 2021 jet fuel leak in Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi, and the significant consequences of the study's results. The description provides objective and relevant details that will help an AI generate an accurate visual representation of the article's content, such as images of water contamination, laboratory experiments, or affected communities.

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Nimrah Khatoon
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University of Hawaiʻi Study Reveals Health Risks from Chlorine and Petroleum in Water

University of Hawaiʻi Study Reveals Health Risks from Chlorine and Petroleum in Water

A recent study conducted by the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa has found that mixing chlorine with petroleum in water can produce harmful byproducts, including Total Trihalomethanes (THM4) and Haloacetic Acids (HAA5). These disinfection byproducts have been linked to an increased risk of cancer and liver damage.

Why this matters: The study's findings have significant implications for public health, as contaminated water sources can affect large populations and have long-term consequences. Understanding the risks associated with chlorinating petroleum-contaminated water is crucial for developing effective strategies to ensure safe drinking water and prevent health problems.

The study was prompted by the 2021 leak from the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in Oʻahu, Hawaiʻi, which released petroleum into the Red Hill drinking water well, affecting hundreds of families. In November 2021, a jet fuel leak from the facility contaminated a Navy drinking water system, impacting over 7,500 people, including military families living on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam and the Army's Aliamanu Military Reservation and Red Hill Housing.

Researchers from UH Mānoa's College of Engineering and Water Resources Research Center conducted lab experiments, which showed that elevated levels of THM4 and HAA5 can form during chlorination of petroleum-contaminated water. THM4 was the most abundant disinfection byproduct, alongside various unregulated byproducts. "These findings highlight the potential health risks associated with chlorinating petroleum-contaminated water, and further research is needed to fully understand these risks in real-world conditions," said study co-author and Professor Tao Yan from the UH Mānoa Department of Civil, Environmental and Construction Engineering and WRRC.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "Chronic exposure to disinfection byproducts may increase risk of cancer. Humans exposed to unusually large amounts of some disinfection byproducts could experience liver damage and decreased nervous system activity." The study emphasizes the importance of understanding the potential risks during both water treatment and distribution to safeguard water quality and protect human health.

The contamination incident has led to lawsuits against the US government. In a two-week trial, plaintiffs' attorney Kristina Baehr asked a judge to award damages ranging from $225,000 to $1.25 million per person. The plaintiffs described health problems they attribute to the contaminated water, including vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, asthma, eczema, and vestibular dysfunction. "There is no acceptable level of jet fuel in drinking water. We don't expect to have jet fuel in our drinking water," Baehr stated.

The government has admitted liability but disputes whether the residents were exposed to jet fuel at levels high enough to cause their alleged health effects. A Navy investigation report in 2022 listed a series of mistakes leading to the fuel spill, including operator error and a sagging fire suppression line. The Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility, located above an aquifer supplying water to 400,000 people in urban Honolulu, released 20,000 gallons of fuel into the water system. The military eventually agreed to drain the tanks amid state orders and protests from Native Hawaiians and other Hawaii residents.

The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa study, published in the April 2024 edition of Chemosphere, sheds light on the potential health risks associated with the Red Hill contamination incident. As the legal proceedings continue, the findings underscore the importance of understanding and mitigating the hazards arising from the interaction of chlorine and petroleum in water to protect public health and ensure safe drinking water for all affected communities.

Key Takeaways

  • Mixing chlorine with petroleum in water produces harmful byproducts, including THM4 and HAA5.
  • These byproducts are linked to increased cancer risk and liver damage.
  • The study was prompted by the 2021 Red Hill fuel leak in Hawaii, affecting 7,500 people.
  • Chlorination of petroleum-contaminated water can form elevated levels of THM4 and HAA5.
  • The findings highlight the importance of understanding and mitigating health risks from chlorine-petroleum interactions.