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Defense Public Health Hosts Webinar for Red Hill Community

Image of Defense Public Health Hosts Webinar for Red Hill Community. U.S. Air Force Col. John Oh, chief of the occupational and environmental health division at the Defense Health Agency Public Health, gave an update on several DHA Public Health Red Hill initiatives and answered some of the questions that have been posed from the community during a webinar on Jan 9, 2024. (DOD photo)

Public health officials from Defense Health Agency Public Health recently hosted a public webinar for members of the community affected by the Red Hill fuel release in 2021. During the event, held on Jan. 9, 2024, U.S. Air Force Col. John Oh, chief of the occupational and environmental health division at the DHA Public Health, gave an update on several DHA Public Health Red Hill initiatives and answered questions posed by the community.

In November 2021, an accident at the Red Hill fuel storage facility resulted in the release of aviation fuel into the Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam water system. Within several days, residents served by the water system reported the water smelled or tasted like fuel. An estimated 90,000 people were exposed or at risk of exposure to the fuel release. Ninety percent of these individuals were affiliated with the military, such as service members, their families, Department of Defense civilians, and DOD contractors.

During the webinar, Oh mentioned that DHA Public Heath remains committed to understanding the short- and long-term health effects of any exposures.In February 2023, DHA Public Health asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to review a select group of medical records from people affected by the fuel release. The selected records were all anonymized to ensure the privacy of the persons involved.

“The records were selected partly based on symptoms such as headache or nausea—symptoms that are consistent with fuel exposure,” said Oh. “The review was intended as a complement to prior CDC community surveys.”

The medical record review reinforced the need for an independent Red Hill registry to track the short-term and long-term effects of fuel exposure. Oh said DHA is working on standing up the registry alongside its interagency partners.After listening to Oh’s remarks, individuals had an opportunity to ask questions. Many of the questions posed described ongoing health concerns and what medical advice could be provided by DOD to address those concerns.

Oh encouraged members who are concerned about health effects to work with their health care providers.

“You really want to establish that effective partnership with your health care provider, so that you can come up with a good diagnostic plan, a good treatment plan, and work together in the spirit of shared decision making regarding the management of any chronic condition,” said Oh.Individuals also asked about the Red Hill registry and when it will be established. While there is no definitive date for the launch of the registry, DHA is working with experts from DOD and the CDC and are in the early planning stages of developing the registry.

“When it’s open for enrollment, we'll notify everyone to get the word out,” said Oh. “We want to proceed as quickly as we can, but we want to be thorough.”

Community members will need to volunteer to be included in the registry. Oh recommends individuals sign up when it becomes active.

“The most important reason for enrolling in the registry is that it's the best means to study the long-term health impacts from the fuel release,” said Oh.

Nearly 130 individuals attended the webinar. Oh said DHA Public Health plans to host more webinars and will continue to attend other public engagements to hear from the Red Hill community.

“The health of our service members, their families, and the Red Hill community remains our top priority,” said Oh. “We remain committed to hearing the community concerns and doing what we can to help preserve the health of our force today and for future generations.”

To contact DHA Public Health, subscribe to e-Updates, and stay informed about DHA Public Health efforts, visit the DHA Public Health Red Hill Website.

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Last Updated: February 14, 2024
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