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Navy extends deadline to clean Pearl Harbor drinking water it contaminated

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Board of Water Supply members are seen in 2016 visiting an empty fuel tank at Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility near Pearl Harbor. File Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet/<a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Redhillops.jpg" target="_blank">Wikimedia Commons</a>
Board of Water Supply members are seen in 2016 visiting an empty fuel tank at Red Hill Underground Fuel Storage Facility near Pearl Harbor. File Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy Pacific Fleet/Wikimedia Commons

Jan. 3 (UPI) -- The Navy has extended its timeline to clean up the Pearl Harbor drinking water system it contaminated in a jet fuel spill in November.

The Navy previously determined that its water well around Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam was contaminated from a jet fuel spill on Nov. 20 near the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility.

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Navy officials told state legislators the project to restore safe drinking water to approximately 93,000 people impacted by the spill will not be complete until the end of the month during an informational briefing Wednesday.

The new deadline extends its assessment in early December that it would clean up the water system in a couple of weeks, Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.

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Still, some military families displaced due to the water contamination could start moving home as soon as next week in a staggered process.

More than 4,000 military families have left their homes due to the contamination, including about 3,400 who have moved into hotel rooms, primarily in Waikiki.

The extension of the deadline follows problems with the Navy's initial clean-up efforts.

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The Hawaii Department of Health issued the Navy a cease and desist order after it flushed out hydrants to clear its main distribution lines days after the contamination without a permit, and amid concerns the flushing was contaminating storm drains leading into the oceans and streams.

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Also, when the Navy asked residents to run water and flush their toilets to get rid of contamination, it prompted reports of overwhelming fuel fumes.

Navy Real Adm. Blake Converse told lawmakers Wednesday during the informational briefing the Navy is now working closely with the Hawaii Department of Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to restore safe drinking water.

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"The plan includes complete flushing of the entire Navy system, from the source to the faucet, with a comprehensive series of water tests in every neighborhood to certify that drinking water meets safe drinking water standards," Converse said at the briefing.

The plan is to flush the main distribution lines carrying water to neighborhoods, then flush individual homes, schools and businesses, according to Converse.

About 10% of homes will be sampled to ensure compliance with safety standards along with all schools using the Navy's water system, Converse added.

The Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro apologized for the spill in a statement Saturday.

"We understand the hurt this has caused many of you, and we are committed to making it right," Del Toro said in the statement.

Converse reiterated during the briefing last week that the Navy takes responsibility.

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"The Navy is responsible for the contamination of the drinking water in our Navy distribution system in the Red Hill well," Converse said at the briefing.

"We used every means available to investigate it thoroughly... and we will take aggressive actions to correct the failures and to hold those at fault appropriately accountable once we've completed those investigations," Converse said.

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