Hawaii Water Crisis Guide - What to do with Contaminated Items

On December 1, 2021 the Hawaii Department of Health confirmed the presence of petroleum product in Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam’s water supply. Armed Forces Housing Advocates had been the first organization advising residents to stop drinking and bathing in the water since November 28, when we began to receive reports from families experiencing illness and a “chemical smell” in their homes’ water.
We have been working with Hawaiian and other elected officials, collecting data, and coordinating water distributions on the ground at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam with our team of volunteers. Additionally, we’ve reached out to experts at Purdue University’s Rapid Water Contamination Response and Recovery Team to provide even more guidance to help ensure families remain healthy.
In consultation with Dr. Andrew Whelton Ph.D of Purdue University, we have determined that there are some household items that should be permanently discontinued from use.
Contaminated water that came into contact with plastic items may have allowed the chemicals to adhere to or penetrate into plastics. This includes household items as well as plastic plumbing components.
Even after the contaminated water is flushed from the water system and plumbing, some contaminated plastics, if present, can leech chemicals into “clean water or food” and make it unsafe.
At this time, little is known about the exact chemicals and their concentrations that entered buildings. Out of an abundance of caution, if you live in the affected neighborhoods and until more information is known, please be mindful regarding the safe use of some household items.
Below is a list of items that we’ve categorized as “should be discarded” and “set aside until more conclusive testing results are available.”
Items that should be discarded:
As previously mentioned, any plastic items that have come in contact with contaminated water should be discarded. Dangerous chemicals can adhere to or penetrate plastics causing them to be unsafe for use. Anything that is plastic used for feeding a baby or toddler should be immediately discarded. Including but not limited to:

  • plastic plates, bowls, and utensils, plastic or silicone teethers and pacifiers, baby bottles, sippy cups, feeding mats, bathing sponges, bottle sanitizers, breast pumps, etc.

Bathroom and personal hygiene items that have come in contact with contaminated water should also be deemed unsafe for use and should be discarded. Items such as:

  • toothbrushes, silicone menstrual cups, plastic or silicone facial brushes/exfoliators.

Additionally, some kitchen items should be discarded as well. All plastic dishware to include plates, bowls, cups, and utensils should be deemed unsafe for use and discarded.

  • Used sponges, cracked ceramic plates or appliances with chips or cracks should be considered unsafe and discarded.

Some items should be set aside and not used until more conclusive testing results are available:
Other household items may be kept for now just set aside until more conclusive testing results are available. Items such as:

  • baby bathtubs (blow up or plastic), bath toys, coffee makers, ice makers, steamers, carpet cleaners or any other large or small appliance that has plastic parts and requires water.

It’s also advice that you wash all items with potable drinking water until further notice. Items include but are not limited to:

  • clothing, bedding, pillows, hair brushes, etc. or use from a location that was not affected.

Also, any face masks that have been washed in contaminated water should be set aside and not used. If you can opt for disposable masks it is recommended to do so.
As with cautionary guidance to avoid drinking and bathing in the contaminated water, we agree with experts that discarding items that may be tainted from the chemical exposure is also sound advice to keep you and your family safe. If you have other items that were not included in the aforementioned list but are questionable to you, it is best to discontinue use of that item until more conclusive tests results are published.
We will continue to work on providing Hawaii families with resources, expert-backed information, and updates through the coming weeks as this crisis continues to unfold.
You can help AFHA provide resources to families in Hawaii by donating.

Original photo submitted by JBPHH resident of contaminated tap water.
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