Boil water advisories occur more often than you think. A quick Google News search shows more than a dozen locations in the United States that have issued temporary advisories in the past 24 hours.
What prompts local legislature to issue such warnings? What do they mean, and how can you ensure you and your family don’t get sick?
StateFoodSafety has your back as we elaborate on water crises and proper water cleansing tactics.
What is a boil water advisory?
Health departments issue a boil water advisory, or boil water notice, whenever a contaminant gets into drinking water. Sometimes a precautionary advisory is issued if there’s a possibility the water has been contaminated but the contamination hasn’t been confirmed.
How does this contamination happen? Most often, it happens in one of the following situations:
- When a water pipe bursts
- If water treatment facilities run into problems
- During severe weather or natural disasters such as flooding
These events can allow sewage or other sources of dangerous bacteria to enter the supply of drinking water. If you drink the contaminated water, you could get very sick. Tainted water can cause diarrhea, cholera, Giardia, Salmonella infection, and E. coli infection.
If a boil water advisory is issued in your area, be extra careful that water is clean before you drink it or use it. Typically, this means purchasing bottled water or boiling your tap water.
How to properly boil water
- If your tap water is cloudy, give it time to settle. Strain the water with a clean cloth, paper towel, or coffee filter to remove the sediment. If your tap water is clear, skip this step.
- Hold water at a rolling boil for at least one minute to kill all harmful bacteria. In high elevation locations (over 6,500 feet) water has a lower boiling point and should be boiled for at least three minutes. Because coffeepots don’t boil water long enough to make it safe, you can’t use them to purify water.
- Don’t forget to let the water cool before drinking or storing it!
Clean drinking water — what all do I need it for?
If there’s a boil water advisory in your area, you should boil your water before doing any of following activities:
- Making ice — also throw away any ice that may have become contaminated
- Brushing your teeth
- Preparing baby formula
- Preparing food
- Preparing drinks (even when the drink has its own filter, like coffee made with a coffee maker)
- Giving pets water to drink
Water doesn’t need to be purified when doing laundry, washing hands, or bathing. However, you should be careful to avoid getting water in your eyes or mouth. It’s also recommended to use purified water for bathing young children, people with weak immune systems, and people with an open wound.
You can use unpurified water to wash dishes, but the dishes should be soaked in a mixture of water and bleach for at least a minute after washing.
What to do after a boil water advisory is lifted
After the advisory is lifted, flush the plumbing in your home by running all cold water faucets for at least five minutes each. You should also flush all appliances connected to the water line, like refrigerators and dishwashers. Disposable filters that have come in contact with contaminated water should be removed and replaced. Ice from ice makers should be dumped and replaced three times.
If you aren’t sure whether your water is contaminated or not, it is always best to err on the side of caution. Preparing clean water by boiling is a quick and simple process and goes a long way to protect you and your family from illness. Feel free to download our Drink Safe Water poster as a reminder of proper boil water advisory practices.
To learn more safe consumer tips, check out our food handler training! You may also want to read our article about how to prepare your restaurant for a natural disaster.
— Calvin Clark
Download Drink Safe Water poster: