Americans use 29.4 billion gallons of water around their homes everyday, according to a 2005 Geological Survey. Up to 87% of domestic water is supplied through public networks with the remainder largely coming from wells. Our daily routines often demand we feel comfortable turning on our taps and not having to think about whether or not our water it is safe to use. So when a boil advisory is issued having to second guess our normal routine can prove to be a big inconvenience.
If you are unfamiliar, boil advisories are issued when there is a risk of contamination to public water supplies as a result of a water line break or flooding. The purpose of these warnings are to protect public health in the event that tap water carrying human or animal waste, as two prominent examples, has entered our water supplies.
Unless a natural disaster has severely damaged infrastructure, water lines will continue to flow and with a little prep work can be safely consumed by humans, pets, plants, and more.
First Things First
If you consumed tap water before hearing about a boil advisory don’t rush to the emergency room yet. If microbiologically unsafe contaminants are in your water they will likely be diluted and worst-case-scenario have a minor affect on health. Infants and the elderly are an exception and should be monitored more closely. Keep in mind that If anyone you know feels sick after drinking contaminated water you should consult a health care professional as soon as possible.
With that out of the way let us look at a few common life events we should know how to approach during a boil advisory.
I Just Gave a Speech and My Throat is Parched
The good news is you can still drink tap water if you first boil it, or use unscented bleach as a disinfectant. Either method is proven effective by many experts. Which we will outline below.
To disinfect water using the boil method, simply fill a pot with water and turn on the heat until bubbles begin rising to the surface. If you have a thermometer you can check that water has reached 212 degrees Fahrenheit. Let the water boil for at least 1 minute. This will kill any organisms that can make you sick. Do not leave the pot unattended during this time and keep handles faced away so children or pets can’t knock them over. Turn off the heat and leave the pot to cool. When safe to handle pour water into a clean container and cover.
To disinfect using bleach, just add 1/8 teaspoon of liquid bleach to 1 gallon of tap water. Using a clean utensil mix well and wait 30 minutes. Store any remaining water in a clean container with a cover. If tap water has a murky or cloudy appearance we will follow similar steps as noted above with a few changes. First you will want to run water through a clean cloth. Then use 1/4 teaspoon of liquid bleach for every 1 gallon of water. Use caution with this method as drinking undiluted bleach can cause serious burns to your mouth and throat.
It is important to note that water filters such as those in your refrigerator or attached to your sink faucet are almost never labeled to treat microbiologically unsafe water. If you own a ultraviolet filtration system or one labeled to treat contaminated water check with the manufacturer to determine whether it is safe to skip the boil or bleach method. However, we will always advised people take extra precautions.Never drink water you think is unsafe.
Coffee Is My Lifeblood
You can make coffee if you following either one of the above methods. If your coffee maker has come into contact with contaminated water you first need to clean the appliance with disinfected water or by running it through the dishwasher using the sanitize setting if available. The same holds true for equipment that makes ice or dispenses sodas and juices, humidifiers, and other personal health systems. If any ice, drinks, or foods were prepared using unsafe water, discard them immediately. Once the boil advisory has been lifted follow manufacturer guidelines for cleaning equipment before using them.
I Just Ran 3 Miles and Kind of Smell
Good on you for getting out and breaking a sweat. You can still shower or bath however it is advised you avoid submersing yourself in water as this increases the odds of microorganisms entering open wounds, eyes, ears or otherwise. With small children using a sponge and disinfected water is ideal. For most personal hygiene needs only use clean water during a boil advisory.
My Dog and I Were Playing Catch
Just like humans, dogs need clean water. If a pet has consumed contaminated water they should be checked for diminished health. A veterinarian will be able to advise you on treatment for your pet in the event they do get sick.
Alternatively, fish and other aquatic life have a greater tolerance to waterborne organisms. If you want to be safe, avoid adding or changing water until the boil advisory has been lifted.
My Garden is Starting to Wilt
Non-edible plants can be watered normally. Fruit and vegetable plants are a different story. What you use to water plants is absorbed and can make its way into the food you are growing. Hold off on watering plants or use disinfected water as noted above.
The Boil Advisory Has Been Lifted and I Want to Use My Slip ‘n’ Slide
Go nuts with your water while being mindful that conservation is vital to the ecology of the planet. But before you go all out and flood your yard there are a few more things to keep in mind. First, you need to flush hot and cold faucets. For cold water, open the tap and leave it running from 1 to 5 minutes. With hot water, flush your hot water tank in a similar manner. A typical 40-gallon take takes 15 minutes to empty while an 80-gallon tank takes about 30 minutes. To disinfect your dishwasher run it on empty with detergent using normal settings. If the dishwasher has a sanitize option choose that and feel free to load it up with all your dishes. If you have water filters simply flush with a quart of water or replace entirely.
Any time you are unsure about when a boil advisory began or ended just contact your local water department. Never risk getting sick when a few precautions can keep you and your water healthy.
For more information visit the EPA’s Consumer Information Page.