Follow Boil Alerts Carefully
Flooding or other natural disasters of any kind can affect water quality and often a boil alert will be put into place. When a large event happens, like a hurricane that impacts a lot of people, the task of getting clean water can be even more challenging. Each person must listen to local news carefully to understand what needs to be done to drinking water to make it safe. Always err on the side of caution as flooding can contaminate water with anything from feces and medical waste to chemicals from nearby industrial facilities.
If you are in a disaster area during the cleanup phase, you will likely need a lot of clean water to drink. Bottled water may be your only option. As services are restored, such as water, you may need to boil it before you can drink it. Most importantly, if you are unsure about the water, you should NOT drink it. Boiling can kill bacteria, but can also concentrate certain chemicals.
Local Tap Water
Your local public water system will let local residents know when the water is safe to drink and whether or not boiling tap water will be necessary. How do they know it is safe? Your local water system will run a series of tests on the water supply to be sure it is safe enough to drink. They will need to bring the pressure back up in the system, and also make sure that it is chlorinated to a level that is safe. Depending on the type of natural disaster and the location of the water system, it may take many days for water to be deemed safe and pumped back into homes.
If you own a well, you will need to go through a set of steps in order to be sure your water is safe to drink. First, you will need to wait for the water to recede. Next, you will need to disinfect your well and plumbing and flush out each faucet for about 10 minutes. Then you will need to take water samples to your local lab to ensure that it is safe to drink. It is important to use NSF-rated bleach or hypochlorite for your well and not, for example, laundry bleach that is scented.
A boil alert could be in effect for some time depending on the problem. In fact, boil alerts happen all over the United States daily and for many reasons. For example, a water main might have broken; or an abundance of bird droppings might require that your local water company alert consumers to boil their tap water before drinking it. On any given day, for whatever reason, thousands of people are affected by a boil alert.
How to Boil Water for a Boil Alert
Once a boil alert is in effect, be careful to boil all water before consuming it and, depending on the severity of the alert, before bathing in it. Use boiled water for brushing your teeth too. According to the CDC, you should fill a large pot with water and bring it to an actual boil for at least one minute; then let the water cool and store it in a clean container for use. If you cannot boil water, you can disinfect it by using 1/8 teaspoon of bleach (must be non-scented) per one gallon of water. Mix it well and wait at least 30 minutes before drinking it. Make sure your containers are clean by sanitizing them with bleach as well. Rinse containers thoroughly before storing water.
Do not forget that anything that requires water, such as washing fruits and vegetables, cooking, mixing baby formula, mixing medications, making ice, washing dishes, or watering pets must be done with boiled water.
Filters Alone Will Not Clean Your Water
Using a filter like a common refrigerator filter or pitcher filter will not be enough to clean contaminated water. Reverse Osmosis systems are not a substitute for boiling water. The only mechanism you can trust to make your water 99.9% pure is a water distiller. Water distillers boil water as part of the process of removing toxins. In fact, water distillers mimic the natural process by which we all get fresh water - evaporation and condensation. If you own a water distiller, your water is safe to drink during boil alerts because it is always boiled before you consume it. Because the steam rises and is then condensed and collected into a jar as liquid water, there is no need to worry about concentrating chemical contaminants as happens with boiling alone. In a water distiller, those chemicals are left behind as waste in the boiling chamber; their boiling point is different than the water they are mixed with straight from the tap. To sum it up, those who own water distillers are prepared for any possible contamination and enjoy 99.9% pure water every day.