A boil water alert (BWA) is issued when there is a threat of disease causing microorganisms such as Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium entering a water system. Contamination can be caused by several different factors, most commonly due to water main breaks or severe flooding which might allow the possibility of foreign substances to enter the water system. In less common instances a BWA can be issued when there is a significant change in the turbidity reading. A BWA is issued after careful consideration among representatives from public health, regulatory agencies and municipal departments.
When there is a BWA, it will be broadcast on the local news (radio, television, web) with instructions on what to do and how long it will last.
The best way to make sure your water is safe for drinking, cooking or brushing your teeth is to boil your water. To effectively kill the disease causing organisms, boil the water for at least one to five minutes. Allow water to cool before use. The water will taste “flat” but will be safe to use. If you are unable to boil your water, you can use bleach or iodine. Bleach will kill some, but not all, types of disease-causing organisms that may be in the water. Add 1/8 teaspoon of regular, unscented, liquid household bleach for each gallon of water, stir it well and let it stand for 30 minutes before you use it. Store disinfected or boiled water in clean, air-tight containers with covers in the refrigerator.
Hot (not boiled) soapy water will be sufficient for dishwashing and surface cleaning. As a precaution, add one tablespoon of bleach per gallon. Unless specifically list in the BWA, laundry water and water for showering does not need to be treated.
Boil alerts are mostly for city and community water supplies. If you have a well, you would want to boil your water after severe flooding or if your well pressure drops to almost non-existent (indicating a potential problem). After correcting the problem or when the water recedes, it is recommended that you have your water tested by your local EPA certified laboratory to make sure it is safe to drink.
For a list of local certified laboratories or more information on safe drinking water, a very informative, reliable source is the EPA.
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