Living in the United States comes along with certain comforts and luxuries that we often take for granted--and a safe water supply is one of them. It’s easy to assume that water contamination is a problem exclusive to the developing world. However, there are times when the water supply in modern urban, suburban, and rural environments around the country gets contaminated.
Flint, Michigan, and Newark, New Jersey, quickly come to mind.
Occurring for a variety of reasons, water contamination is a real and serious threat and puts local residents at a dangerous health risk. Water contamination from pathogenic microorganisms can result in short-term symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, and headaches or long-term serious diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever, and dysentery.
Fortunately, we have boil water advisory orders to warn us of water contamination. If an order is issued in your area, you’ll need to know what to do. That’s why today, I’m going to cover what a boil water advisory order is, how it originates, past situations that have necessitated them, and what to do if your area receives one.
What Is a Boil Water Advisory Order and Why Is It Issued?
According to World Water Reserve, a boil water advisory order can be defined as “a public health advisory or directive administered by government or health authorities to inform residents when a community’s water supply is, or could likely be, contaminated by pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and parasites.”
These orders are typically issued when...
- Coli or other pathogenic microorganisms found in sewage are detected in the local water supply.
- There is a loss of positive water pressure due to situations such as floods, broken water mains, and industrial accidents, which create conditions that could allow contamination to enter the distribution system.
Depending on the severity of the order, residents will be alerted that their tap water may not be safe for certain activities, such as drinking, bathing, washing, and other activities that utilize water. Boil advisory orders come in two forms--precautionary advisories and mandatory advisories.
Precautionary advisories are more common and are issued after the occurrence of an event that could contaminate the water supply, such as a loss of positive water pressure. These advisories are issued while water samples are being collected and analyzed to confirm whether the water quality has been affected. In other words, these orders communicate to residents that they should be safe rather than sorry, even when contamination isn’t fully confirmed.
On the other hand, mandatory advisories occur less often and are issued when the water supply has tested positive for contaminants. These are to be taken very seriously until the issue has been resolved and the notice has been lifted.
Boil water advisory orders happen more often than you may think--for instance, Montgomery county in Pennsylvania was just issued an order on September 2 due to a water main break. About 1,700 residents were affected by the break, and the order warned them to boil water before drinking it, using it to make ice, wash dishes, brush teeth, and prepare food until the advisory was lifted.
One of the main reasons these orders are becoming more common is our country’s failing infrastructure. As World Water Reserve shares, “in 2016, the EPA reported that the deteriorating infrastructure causes an estimated 240,000 water main breaks each year, which results in a loss of about 1.7 trillion gallons of treated drinking water that amounts to $2.6 billion. A recent study has also shown that an estimated 19 million Americans become ill each year due to the intake of contaminated water.” These statistics may sound frightening, but, fortunately, there are steps you can take before, during, and after an order has been issued.
What to Do If a Boil Water Advisory Order Is Issued
If and when an advisory order is issued, there are several steps you need to take to ensure you and your family members remain safe and healthy. Ideally, you will take steps to prepare before a boil water advisory order has been issued. For example, you’ll want to stock up on a supply of bottled water, and purchase filtration supplies. When it comes to stocking up, aim to have enough for each person to consume one to two gallons of water per day.
Aside from stocking up on bottled water, to ensure your tap water is safe to use, you can either boil or disinfect it. If you decide to boil your water, make sure you bring it to a rolling boil for at least one minute. If you’re at an altitude of over 5,000 feet, boil for at least three minutes. If the water appears cloudy, it’s best to filter it before you boil using a clean cloth or coffee filter.
If you choose to disinfect your water, most people will advise mixing ⅛ teaspoon of non-scented bleach in one gallon of water. Then wait at least thirty minutes before drinking it. Make sure that the bleach you use is not scented or color safe, or has added cleaners. If you prefer to stay away from bleach, there are other options, such as these Drinking Water Germicidal Tablets. These tablets are an easy solution to disinfect your tap water after a boil water advisory order has been issued.
Once you have boiled or disinfected your water, store it in a sanitized container with a cover. However, boiling or disinfection will not destroy other contaminants, such as heavy metals, salts, and most other chemicals. On the other hand, purchasing a filter like the Alexapure Pro can give you greater peace of mind as it removes 99.9999% of 206 contaminants such as:
- Heavy Metals
- Viruses & bacteria
- Pesticides & pharmaceuticals
You can find out when an order has been lifted via local media and other methods of public notification. Feel free to contact your local Health Department office or water utility to get details on how long it might last and whether an order has been lifted.
Once the order has been lifted, you’re not entirely in the clear to use water in a “business as usual” fashion. Make sure you flush household pipes, ice makers, water fountains, etc., before drinking or cooking. Flushing means you let water run so that no contaminated water remains in the pipes. Press and Journal provides the following guidelines for flushing…
- Run all cold water faucets in your home for three minutes each.
- To flush automatic ice makers, make three batches of ice and discard.
- Run water softeners through a regeneration cycle.
- Run drinking water fountains for one minute.
- Run water coolers with direct water connections for five minutes.
Even when you’re careful, accidents happen. If you or a family member begin to experience symptoms such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, with or without fever, I advise you to seek medical attention.
Keep the tips I’ve provided in mind, stay aware, and be safe.
Preparedness Advisor, My Patriot Supply