By Peter Chawaga
The results of an investigation into drinking water issues aboard a major military vessel revealed that those aboard were totally unaware of significant contamination for more than a year.
“An unused water tank on a US Navy aircraft carrier was polluted with jet fuel for at least 17 months before anyone realized it,” Business Insider reported. “As water with an unusual odor came out of the drinking fountains late last summer, the problem started to become clear, but even then, some weren’t completely aware of the severity of the problem.”
The investigation was prompted by contamination aboard the USS Nimitz that may have sickened several sailors. It concluded that the jet fuel found its way into the potable water tank thanks to a malfunction in the ship’s drainage system that led it to the bilges, then through a deteriorated gasket on top of the tank.
“The investigation said that eight of the ship’s 26 potable water tanks had been taken out of service since at least September 2020, with some of them listed as being out of service due to potential unspecified bilge contamination and seawater contamination,” according to Business Insider. “However, the problems were only recorded informally and not adequately communicated to future crews.”
In addition to detailing everything that went wrong on the Nimitz, the investigation has uncovered a potentially concerning blind spot for Navy aircraft carriers everywhere: They do not appear prepared to identify or respond to jet fuel (known as JP-5) contamination of their potable water supplies.
“The incident also revealed that Navy ships are not set up to deal with fuel contamination,” per Military.com. “The report noted that the crew ‘does not have capability or procedure to analyze water or (sewage) to determine the presence or concentration of JP-5’ and ‘neither the ship nor shore support facilities had pre-planned procedures or response actions to recover a shipboard potable water system contaminated with JP-5.”
Drinking water issues aboard Navy vessels have been mounting, with another high-profile instance taking place on the USS Abraham Lincoln in recent months as well. As similar investigations are launched and potentially reveal contamination problems that must be addressed, perhaps that trend can be reversed.
“Polluted water on Navy ships is not isolated to these two vessels,” Business Insider reported. “Veterans of the Marine Corps and the Navy told Insider that sailors aboard aircraft carriers, and amphibious assault ships had, for decades, experienced water that was contaminated by jet fuel.”
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