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Water Safety

 

Floods and other disasters can contaminate and damage drinking water wells and lead to aquifer and well contamination.


The following tips can help you ensure your drinking water is safe.

  • Do not use water you suspect is contaminated. Contaminated water can lead to illness.
  • Do not use suspected or contaminated water to wash dishes, brush your teeth, wash and prepare food, make ice, or make baby formula.
  • Do not use water from the following:
    • Radiators
    • Hot water boilers (part of your home heating system)
    • Water beds (fungicides added to the water and/or chemicals in the vinyl may make water unsafe for use)
  • Do not try to boil or disinfect water contaminated with fuel or toxic chemicals. If you suspect your water has fuel or chemical contamination, contact your local health department for specific advice.
  • Do not drink alcohol, as it dehydrates the body, which increases the need for drinking water.


 

 

Water Treatment


If you have used all of your stored water and there are no other reliable clean water sources, it may become necessary to treat suspicious water. Treat all water of uncertain quality before using it for drinking, food washing or preparation, washing dishes, brushing teeth or making ice. In addition to having a bad odor and taste, contaminated water can contain microorganisms (germs) that cause diseases such as dysentery, cholera, typhoid and hepatitis.

There are many ways to treat water. Often the best solution is a combination of methods. Before treating, let any suspended particles settle to the bottom or strain them through coffee filters or layers of clean cloth.


Boiling

Boiling is the safest method of treating water. In a large pot or kettle, bring water to a rolling boil for one full minute, keeping in mind that some water will evaporate. Let the water cool before drinking.

Boiled water will taste better if you put oxygen back into it by pouring the water back and forth between two clean containers. This also will improve the taste of stored water.


Chlorination

You can use household liquid bleach to kill microorganisms. Use only regular household liquid bleach that contains 5.25 to 6.0 percent sodium hypochlorite. Do not use scented bleaches, color safe bleaches or bleaches with added cleaners.

Add 16 drops (1/8 teaspoon) of bleach per gallon of water, stir and let stand for 30 minutes. The water should have a slight bleach odor. If it doesn’t, then repeat the dosage and let stand another 15 minutes. If it still does not smell of chlorine, discard it and find another source of water.

Other chemicals, such as iodine or water treatment products sold in camping or surplus stores that do not contain 5.25 or 6.0 percent sodium hypochlorite as the only active ingredient, are not recommended and should not be used.


Distillation

While boiling and chlorination will kill most microbes in water, distillation will remove microbes (germs) that resist these methods, as well as heavy metals, salts and most other chemicals. Distillation involves boiling water and then collection of only the vapor that condenses. The condensed vapor will not include salt or most other impurities.

To distill, fill a pot halfway with water. Tie a cup to the handle on the pot’s lid so that the cup will hang right-side-up when the lid is upside-down (make sure the cup is not dangling into the water) and boil the water for 20 minutes. The water that drips from the lid into the cup is distilled.


Finding Emergency Water Sources

Alternative sources of clean water can be found inside and outside the home. The following are possible sources of water:

  • Water from your home’s water heater tank (part of your drinking water system, not your home heating system)
  • Melted ice cubes made with water that was not contaminated
  • Water from your home’s toilet tank (not from the bowl), if it is clear and has not been chemically treated with toilet cleaners such as those that change the color of the water
  • Liquid from canned fruit and vegetables
  • Water from swimming pools, spas, and collected rain water can be used for personal hygiene and cleaning, but not for drinking.




Listen to local officials’ reports on what water precautions to take in your home. It may be necessary to shut off the main water valve to your home to prevent contaminants from entering your piping system.  

LEARN MORE

 Water Treatment Resources:To learn more about water filters and treatments that can remove microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria, and parasites (such as Cryptosporidium), see the following resources: