What to do during a Boil Water Advisory

What to do during a Boil Water Advisory blog header

What to do During a Boil Water Advisory

When a water pipe broke just outside of Boston, more than two million people were left without clean water for three days. Within hours of the break, a “Boil Water Advisory” (BWA) was issued and cases of drinking water in stores quickly disappeared, restaurants closed their doors, schools sent children home, and hotels refused reservations.

While this incident affected millions of people and caused the governor of Massachusetts to declare a state of emergency, most water supply contamination events only affect a neighborhood or two. Yet thousands of BWAs are issued each year, so understanding what steps to take during a BWA is important.

How do water supplies become compromised resulting in Boil Water Advisory (BWA)?

The public water supply is carefully monitored to ensure EPA standards are maintained. But when contamination levels, particularly of bacteria and pathogens, are high and deemed unsafe a “Boil Water Advisory” is issued by government or health authorities.

A public water supply can become contaminated due to:

  • A change in water pressure is observed (or planned) either due to leaks, main breaks or scheduled system maintenance that can leave the system vulnerable to impurities seeping in.
  • Local land use practices such as fertilizers, pesticides, and livestock.
  • Naturally occurring mineral and chemicals in the ground like uranium, arsenic, and radon.
  • Manufacturing processes.
  • Sewer overflows.

What to do when a Boil Water Advisory is issued?

Regardless of the reason for the boil water order, the precautionary measures are as follows:

Drinking Water:  It is recommended (by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) that you bring all drinking water to a rolling boil for one minute prior to consumption.   For higher altitudes (above 6500 feet), water should be boiled for three minutes. Boiling water will kill protozoa, bacteria and viruses. Cool and store all boiled water in a covered container. For areas without power, add 1/4 teaspoon of unscented household beach per gallon of water.

Hand Washing: As for washing hands, vigorous hand washing with soap and your tap water is safe for basic personal hygiene. But if you are washing your hands to prepare food, you should try to use boiled (then cooled) water or bottled water with hand washing soap.

Dish Washing: You should be able to hand wash your dishes during a BWA. But for precautionary reasons, after washing with dish soap, rinse the hand-washed dishes in a bleach solution (1 tablespoon bleach per gallon of water). Allow dishes to completely air dry. Most household dishwashers do not reach the proper temperature to sanitize dishes, therefore this method is not recommended.

Bathing, Showering and Shaving: The water may be used for baths, showering and shaving as long you are careful not to swallow or allow water into your eyes, nose or mouth. If you have recent surgical wounds or a chronic illness, you may want to use bottled or boiled water for bathing until the advisory is lifted.

Washing fruits and vegetables:  It is recommended that produce be soaked in a bleach and water solution. To create this mixture, in a large bowl, combine one gallon of water and 1/8 teaspoon unscented household bleach.  After produce has sat in the bleach and water solution for 3-4 minutes (enough contact time to kill bacteria), drain with a colander. 

Ice Machine, Coffee Maker, and Water or Soda Dispensers: None of these should be used if they are connected to your water supply. During a BWA, use bottled water or water that has been boiled or disinfected for making coffee and ice. Once you have been notified that the BWA has been lifted, these devices should be cleaned and disinfected prior to use.

Caring for Household Pets:  The same precautions that are taken to protect humans should be used for household pets. Use boiled or bottled water when refilling pet water bowls.

What if I forget or drink water before learning of the boil water advisory?

Boil Water Advisories are issued as a precaution.  If you drank the water before hearing of the advisory the probability of becoming sick is low. However, if you begin to run a fever, experience diarrhea or vomiting, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. Advise your doctor that you have consumed tap water during the Boil Water Advisory.

How to prepare for a future boil water advisory?

When 300,000 people in West Virginia woke up on 10 January 2014 to learn their tap water was unsafe for drinking and showering, life came to a standstill.

The truth is, the majority of us are unprepared for boil water orders. And with our country’s aging municipal water supply infrastructure, chances are we will see more and more incidents of water pressure loss or broken pipes that will result in a boil water advisory being issued.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following preparations for each household:

  • Store at least 1 gallon of water per day for each person and each pet. You should consider storing more water than this for hot climates, forpregnant women, and for persons who are sick.
  • Store at least a 3-day supply of water for each person and each pet (try to store a 2-week supply if possible).
  • Observe the expiration date for store-bought water; replace other stored water every six months.
  • Store a bottle of unscented liquid household chlorine bleach to disinfect your water and to use for general cleaning and sanitizing.
  • Store antibacterial hand sanitizing gel for hands.

Ultraviolet Water Disinfection: Give Your Household Peace of Mind

When it comes to eliminating risk, ultraviolet (UV) technology is engineered to give you peace of mind.

Why wait for a boil water advisory? Households all over the world use UV technology to provide safe drinking water in the home each and every day. A WaterTech authorized dealer can install a UV system at the kitchen sink for contaminant-free drinking water or a whole-house UV system so that every faucet in the home dispenses clean water.

Locate a dealer near you and get a quote on an ultraviolet water purification and filtration system.

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Ultraviolet water purification system for the entire home.