What to Do During a Boil Water Notice
A boil water notice (BWN), sometimes referred to as a boil water advisory, is a notice issued by your city water system advising you to boil your drinking water for safety purposes. BWNs are issued anytime there is a possibility that the water being delivered to you might be contaminated with cryptosporidium, Legionella, E. coli, or other disease-causing germs and pathogens. Boil water notices typically have a starting and ending date. However, the notice may say that the ending date is to be determined (TBD). BWNs may also include advice on how to safely boil your water and what other precautions should be taken while the notice is in effect.
What Causes a Boil Water Notice to Be Issued?
Things that might cause a boil water notice to be issued include broken pipes, power outages, equipment failures, and natural disasters. When a water pipe breaks, contaminants that are in the soil around the pipe can enter the pipe and contaminate the water. During a power outage, pumps may not be able to maintain adequate water pressure. Pressures below 20 pounds per square inch (PSI) may result in back siphonage, which could cause contaminated water to enter pipes through cracks and joints. Equipment failures in water treatment plants could allow untreated water to exit the plant and be delivered to customers. Natural disasters, such as flooding and stormwater runoff, may cause groundwater to become contaminated.
How Much Time Is Allowed for a City Water System to Issue a Boil Water Notice?
City water systems and other types of public water systems are regulated by both federal and state agencies. In many states, such as Florida for example, the Department of Health (DOH) requires city water systems to notify the public as soon as possible following an event that may have led to the contamination of drinking water but no later than 24 hours following the discovery of the event. Most city water systems will make every effort to immediately notify its customers once such an event has been discovered. However, depending on how long it takes the city water system to discover the event and to issue a boil water notice, you could be unknowingly drinking and otherwise using contaminated water for several hours or possibly even days.
How to Meet the Requirements of a Boil Water Notice
To meet the requirements of a boil water notice, you need to boil your tap water long enough to kill any disease-causing germs and pathogens. Although your boil water notice may specify a shorter period of time depending on your location’s elevation, you should boil your water for at least three minutes to be on the safe side. If your water is cloudy or contains sediment, begin by filtering it through a coffee filter, paper towel or clean cloth. Alternatively, you could allow enough time for the cloudy particles to settle to the bottom of the container. Then boil the clear portion of the water on your stove in a metal pot. Do not try to use hot water from your coffee maker or from a home heating radiator. You could also meet the requirements of a boil water notice by using bottled water.
What to Do After a Boil Water Notice Has Expired
Once a boil water notice has expired, you will need to flush your entire home water system before returning to normal. To do so, start by simultaneously running cold water through all of your taps for at least 15 minutes. If you have a multi-level home, turn on your lower-level taps first. Then turn on and let your upper-level taps run for 15 minutes or more. Complete the process by turning off all taps in reverse order. You will also need to clean all faucet aerators with vinegar and a disposable toothbrush. You should then throw out the present batch of ice in your refrigerator/freezer along with the next three batches. After that, disinfect the ice container with bleach and water. To make sure that no contaminants remain in your water system, you should also flush and replace any filters in your refrigerator water line. Additionally, you should run your dishwasher through one empty cycle before placing dishes in it. Lastly, you should disinfect any surfaces that might have come into contact with contaminated water.
What If I Accidentally Drink Contaminated Water?
If you accidentally drink contaminated water, it could make you severely ill. The most common side effects of drinking contaminated water include diarrhea, stomach aches, fever, and vomiting. However, drinking contaminated water may also lead to kidney failure and can even be fatal to certain people, especially babies, the elderly and those of any age who have a compromised immune system. Certain chemicals in contaminated water could cause skin discoloration, nervous system damage, and adverse reproductive effects. Longer-term exposure to contaminated water can result in chronic conditions, such as certain forms of cancer and adverse neurological and cardiovascular conditions.
How Long After Drinking Contaminated Water Do You Show Symptoms?
Symptoms of consuming water contaminated with bacteria like E. coli typically show up in three to four days. However, they can sometimes manifest themselves in as little as one day or as much as a week or more. Chronic health problems like bladder cancer may only show up after drinking contaminated water for many years. Some of the chemicals commonly found in drinking water that are suspected of causing cancer include arsenic and disinfection byproducts (DBPs) that are formed when chlorine is used to disinfect water containing organic material. Other inorganic compounds suspected of causing long-term health issues include chromium, copper, lead, and mercury.
Things You Can Safely Do During a Boil Water Advisory
You can brush your teeth during a boil water advisory, but you should only do so with water that has been boiled. Otherwise, you risk swallowing some contaminated water, plus you may contaminate your toothbrush and toothpaste tube. You can also shower when you are under a boil water notice, but you should again avoid swallowing any of the shower water. You can wash your clothes unless the water is so murky that you are afraid it will damage or discolor your clothes. You can also wash your hands with soap. To be on the safe side, though, you should then sanitize your hands with an alcohol-based disinfectant. Last but not least, you can safely flush your toilet.
Things You Should Not Do During a Boil Water Advisory
As previously mentioned, you should not drink tap water unless it has been sufficiently boiled. You should also not use tap water to brush your teeth. Other things you should avoid include using tap water to mix baby formula, washing fruits and vegetables, or feeding your pets. In short, do not use tap water in any way that a person or pet might consume a portion of it unless it has been boiled. You also cannot count on the filters in pitchers or your refrigerator because such filters will not remove harmful bacteria or viruses.
Are Boil Water Notices Becoming More Common?
Yes, boil water notices are becoming more common. Much of the increase is because of aging infrastructure. Many water pipes have been in the ground for decades and are subject to corrosion and breakage. In some parts of the country, the aging electrical grid is being blamed for more frequent power outages that result in more boil water notices. One such event occurred in Houston, Texas, on November 20, 2022, when a power outage crippled a water treatment plant. As a result of that event, the city of Houston issued boil water notices to more than two million residents. The power outage resulted from the failure of two electrical transformers.
What Can I Do to Avoid or Ignore a Boil Water Notice?
The good news is that you can ignore boil water notices by using the proper type of whole-house water filtering system with UV protection. This is because such a system will eliminate up to 99.9 percent of all contaminants, including harmful pathogens and other disease-causing microorganisms. Such a filtering system works 24 hours per day and is constantly filtering your water whether you know there is a problem or not. This means that during the 24 hours that your city water system is given by regulators to issue a boil water notice, your water is already being filtered. In fact, it was already filtering your water before the city water system even discovered that there was a problem. Also, you will not have to worry about flushing out your water system once a boil water notice has expired because your water system contains only filtered water.
The Benefits of Ultraviolet (UV) Water Purification Systems
UV water purification systems will remove over 99.9 percent of disease-causing bacteria. They will even remove harmful microorganisms that are able to survive the chlorine disinfectants used by city water systems, such as cryptosporidium and giardia. A UV water purification system uses a physical decontamination process rather than a chemical process. Such a system disinfects water instantaneously as water passes through a clear chamber where it is exposed to ultraviolet light. A UV system uses no chemicals and does not degrade the look or taste of the water. By combining a UV water purification system with a whole-house water filtration system containing the proper type of carbon filter, you can be assured that your water is pure and safe to drink.