Ground water supplies can become contaminated with bacteria after flooding. State agencies may declare a boil water advisory to ensure the public is protected from ingesting harmful pathogens. If your community, or even your neighborhood, is subject to a boil water advisory, there are a few things you should know to keep you and your family safe.
When should I boil my water if the state issues a warning?
Public water systems are regularly monitored for contaminants, including total coliform bacteria. These bacteria, while not harmful to humans, are usually found in the same environments as harmful bacteria and are used as an indicator. If bacteria are found in a public water system, authorities will notify residents with a boil water advisory until testing shows the water is bacteria-free.
In private water wells, bacteria can contaminate the water supply after flooding if the structure of the well has been compromised, or if a nearby well has been contaminated with bacteria. If flood waters have risen to a level above your well cap, it may be contaminated and should be tested immediately. Likewise, if your neighbors have reported bacteria contamination in their well and your well draws from the same groundwater source, you will also want to have your water tested. In some cases, the contamination of the groundwater may be such that you will be advised to boil your water.
In the case of fecal coliform presence, the boil water advisory typically remains in effect until a minimum of two consecutive sets of samples show the absence of coliform and any outstanding system defects have been corrected.
How to boil my water during a contamination warning?
First, filter the water through a clean cloth to remove sediment. Next, bring the water to a full boil in a metal or glass container. A large metal cooking pot should be fine. Keep the water boiling vigorously for at least two minutes. Cover the container tightly and let the water cool. Store in a cool place in a tightly covered, clean container.
When do I use boiled water?
There are a few household jobs that are safe to perform with tap water even when there is a boil water advisory in place, such as laundry and watering the garden. However, you should use boiled or bottled water for the following purposes:
• Cooking and washing food
• Brushing teeth
• Making ice cubes, coffee, tea or lemonade
• Baby formula
It is OK for adults to bathe with tap water under a boil water advisory, but they should make sure not to swallow the water. Children should be bathed with water that has been boiled or bottled. Washing hands should also be done with safe water. If hands come in contact with contaminated water, make sure to wash thoroughly with soap or use a hand sanitizer after. You can use either boiled water or tap water when washing dishes, but if tap water is used, finish the wash by soaking the dishes for one minute in lukewarm water with a teaspoon of bleach per every gallon of water used.
When boiling water is not advised
Boil water advisories are only used when bacteria is found in drinking water. It will not address contamination of other kinds, including nitrites, arsenic, lead, or other chemical contaminants. If these are found at a harmful level in your water, do not consume the water at all and use only bottled water.
If you have any questions about boil water advisories, bacteria contamination and whether your water should be tested, contact Skillings & Sons at 1 (800) 441-6281. We offer emergency service 365 days a year.