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The US Navy now knows why the water on an aircraft carrier looked and smelled strange. It had wastewater in it.

Business Insider logo Business Insider 10/24/2022 (Jake Epstein)
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln transits the Pacific Ocean. US Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Travis K. Mendoza © US Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Travis K. Mendoza The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln transits the Pacific Ocean. US Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Travis K. Mendoza
  • The US Navy found last month that the water on an aircraft carrier had an "odor and cloudy appearance."
  • The service said early last week it didn't know why the water looked and smelled strange.
  • An inspection has since concluded that wastewater had entered the system. 

A month after sailors on the US Navy aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln first noticed their water looked and smelled strange, the service has finally determined that it was polluted with wastewater that leaked into the water supply.

Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and USS Abraham Lincoln personnel inspected the potable water tanks and determined on October 20 that "bilge water entered one of the potable water tanks through a hole that was found in the tank's air vent line, causing the cloudy appearance and odor in the ship's potable water," the Navy said in a recent statement.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, bilge water is liquid that drains from the interior areas or upper decks of a ship and gets collected in the lowest part of its body. Though the physical composition of a ship's bilge water can vary, it's considered to be wastewater and can consist of everything from sink drainage to fuel to chemicals to even sewage. 

Sailors on the Lincoln originally noticed an "odor and cloudy appearance" in the ship's drinking and bathing water on September 21, and testing the following day revealed that E. coli bacteria was present in some of the vessel's potable water tanks, the Navy said in an October 13 statement.

The Navy said at the time that the presence of E. coli bacteria was actually unrelated to reports of an "odor and cloudiness," which the service said disappeared on September 22.

A Navy official told Insider on October 18, nearly a month after the issue was first reported, that it was still "not yet known" what was wrong with the water that caused the unusual smell and appearance.  

"However, the three tanks that were found to have water with E. coli also contained the water with the odor and cloudiness. Those tanks were immediately isolated and secured from the potable water system," Naval Air Forces Cmdr. Zach Harrell told Insider last week. 

With the Navy having concluded its investigation, it now acknowledges that wastewater was responsible for the water looking and smelling weird on USS Abraham Lincoln.

The Lincoln is the second aircraft carrier to deal with water contamination issues within the last few weeks.

In September, just days before issues were found on the Lincoln, the Navy said it found what it said were "traces" of jet fuel in the water aboard USS Nimitz. A sailor on the ship — and their parents — told Insider that the issue was worse than what the Navy originally revealed to the public.    

Contaminated water hasn't been isolated to just the Nimitz and the Lincoln either. Navy and Marine Corps veterans told Insider that sailors on Navy flattops, aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships, have been drinking and bathing in water contaminated by jet fuel for decades.


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