‘That’s jet fuel’: Navy families stricken by tainted water


(NewsNation) — In 2021 Koda and Nastasia Freeman were thrilled when they found out Koda, a career naval officer, would be stationed at the base in Oahu, Hawaii.

“We were extremely excited,” Nastasia Freeman said. “You know, it’s paradise. It’s an island.”

Koda Freeman shared her early enthusiasm.

“You’re gonna go to the beaches all the time,” he said. “There were tons of trails, tons, just lots of activities and stuff for the kids.”

But their dream quickly turned into a nightmare when the family began suffering mysterious bouts of illness soon after their move.

“The kids were having kind of respiratory issues,” Nastasia Freeman said. “You know, and so we would take them to get COVID tests. They’d be negative. We just kept taking them back to the doctor and kind of getting the same answers over and over and over.”

Koda Freeman also suffered symptoms.

“I’d have respiratory issues, and then just some, like, GI issues and stuff like that,” Koda Freeman said. “I thought it was just a little bit of, you know, acclimating to a new — to a new area.”

What the two didn’t know was that in May of that year, a pipeline failure at the Red Hill Bulk Storage Facility had leaked more than 19,000 gallons of jet fuel into the area’s water source.

The Navy has acknowledged the Red Hill spill, which impacted thousands of families. There is now a growing wave of lawsuits, as many of those affected deal with serious medical issues, including the Freemans.

Koda Freeman didn’t initially think anything about the water.

“Not at all,” he said. “I wouldn’t have thought that, it wouldn’t even have been on my mind.”

Nastasia Freeman maintained it had to be the coronavirus.

“I actually at the time didn’t put together that, you know, maybe it was something environmental at all,” she said, “Because when you have three children that are in the home all together, they’re very close in age, if you get a virus, right, so I really trusted what they were saying — all kids are gonna get the virus, right? Everybody, including us.”

By the fall, the family’s illnesses worsened and they were now dealing with skin lesions, hair loss and developmental issues with their three young sons.

The paperwork from their hospitalizations was piling up, but no relief was in sight.

When the Freemans hosted family for Thanksgiving, their guests became ill too.

It was around that same time when Nastasia Freeman noticed something odd: The water in their home had a smell.

“I was running our water and I kept smelling it in the laundry room,” she said. “And I was like, “You know what, he works on a ship. It’s his uniform.”

She asked Koda Freeman to “come smell this water because something smells off, like it really smells off.”

He turned the water off and said, “that’s jet fuel.”

It was at that moment the couple realized their situation was really bad.

“So it happens, like on ships from time to time,” Koda Freeman said. “So, I had smelled that before. And so when I smelled it in our water, I was like, OK, that’s extremely odd. Because at that point, I haven’t done any research or anything like that, trying to see where our water actually came from.”

One of the Freemans’ sons is photographed in the hospital. (Credit: Family handout.)

Unbeknownst to the Freemans, an additional 14,000 gallons of jet fuel had leaked into the water supply on Nov. 21.

The Navy said that tests had identified petroleum in its Red Hill well, which taps into an aquifer near the base.

“You could turn your cup sideways, you could see where it would gather, there’s a sheen in our water,” Nastasia Freeman said. “We actually called the Navy, like, ‘Hey, can somebody check our water? Because at this point, everybody’s starting to complain.'”

Despite this, and mounting complaints from military families like the Freemans, the Navy continued to maintain that the water was safe to use.

“The first week of December, we were evacuated. But even then, the guidance that we were getting was so mixed,” Nastasia Freeman said. “The Navy was saying one thing, that it was safe to drink, right? And then we had the Department of Health come in later, a few days later, if that, and say, ‘you know what, you should not be drinking the water, it is not safe.'”

Despite being evacuated and moving to California, the Freemans are facing a lifetime of aftereffects from jet fuel exposure.

“February of this year, I was having multiple seizures a day at the time,” Nastasia Freeman said, “I do have a pre-existing seizure disorder. Prior to that, though, I had been seizure-free for two and a half years.”

According to the Freemans’ attorney, Kristina Baehr, 93,000 people were poisoned by the U.S. Navy.

Nastasia Freeman. (Credit: Family handout.)

“The Navy knew about the spill,” she said. “They let people continue drinking the water. Six thousand people went to the emergency room.”

Baehr is representing the Freemans and four other families impacted by the jet fuel leak. She said the Navy has failed to provide proper remediation or medical care to the families.

“They continue to provide zero environmental health care to affected family members,” Baehr said. “Zero.”

Nastasia Freeman calls the Navy’s handling of the situation “extremely dismissive.”

“You know, not acknowledging the fact that there are children sick, that there are adults sick,” she said.

Military families make many sacrifices, and Koda Freeman has been serving his country for many years.

“Something that we promote is family, right? We’re going to take care of the family, you know, just to make sure that the service member can fulfill the mission,” he said. “And that’s, that’s what we need to do right now.”

Nastasia Freeman said they love the Navy and their Navy life.

“My kids love the Navy,” she said. “My 12-year-old wants to go to the Navy. I think that it’s changed a lot for them, not just medically, right, but their dreams of following dad and going into the military. It feels like it was stripped.”

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