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Water Safety Information in Event of Emergency

  • Published: 2011-03-15 (Revised/Updated 2016-10-19) : Thomas C. Weiss (Disabled World).
  • Synopsis: Drinking water might not be available or safe to drink for your own personal use after an emergency

Main Document

Quote: "Boiling is the best way to ensure that the water you are going to drink is safe and to kill disease-causing organisms such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites."

Drinking water might not be available or safe to drink for your own personal use after an emergency; particularly after floods. It is important that you do not use contaminated water to drink, wash and prepare foods, make ice, brush your teeth, or to wash your dishes in.

Floods and other forms of disasters may damage water from drinking wells, leading to aquifer and well contamination. Flood water can also contaminate water from wells with human sewage, chemicals, animal wastes, and additional contaminants which might lead to illness if used for the purposes of bathing, drinking or other uses.

Prior to an emergency, or even temporary issues with any community water system, community drinking water treatment facilities need to have an emergency plan in place in case water service is interrupted. Water treatment facilities need to monitor the quality of drinking water they produce according to government regulations.

Making Water Safe to Drink

You can make water safe to drink by boiling it, adding disinfectants to it, or by filtering it. It is very important to not that water that has been contaminated with toxic chemicals or fuel cannot be made safe to drink by adding disinfectants or through boiling it. Make sure you use a different source of water if you either suspect or know that water coming from a particular source has been contaminated with toxic chemicals or fuel.

One of the best water backups you can have is bottled water. If you do not have bottled water, you should boil the water you do have to make it safe to drink. Boiling is the best way to ensure that the water you are going to drink is safe and to kill disease-causing organisms such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Boiled water tastes rather flat; you can improve the taste of the water by pouring it from one container into another and then permitting it to stand for a period of a few hours. You might also add a pinch of salt for every liter or quart of water you have boiled.

If the water you have appears cloudy, allow it to settle. You might also filter it through a paper towel, a clean cloth, or a coffee filter. Once you have done this, draw off the clear water, bring it to a rolling boil for one minute - unless you are located above 6,500 feet, in which case you need to boil it for three minutes. Then let the water cool off, and store it in a clean and sanitized container with a tight cover.

If the water you have is already clear in appearance, then you do not need to filter it through a cloth or paper towel. Instead, all you need to do is boil it, and then store it in a clean and sanitized container with a tight cover.

Disinfecting Water

If you do not have clean and safe bottled water, or boiling water is not an option, you can many times make water safe to drink through the use of a disinfectant such as unscented household chlorine bleach. You might also use chlorine dioxide tablets, or iodine. All of these disinfectants have the ability to kill the majority of organisms that are harmful, such as bacteria or viruses. Chlorine dioxide tablets; however, are the only disinfectant that are effective in controlling organisms that are more resistant, such as Cryptosporidium. To disinfect the water you do have, follow these steps:

  • Clean and disinfect the containers you are going to use to store your water before each use.
  • Whenever possible, use containers that are approved for water storage.
  • Do not use containers that have previously been used to store chemicals or other hazardous materials.
  • Filter the water through a clean cloth, paper towel, or coffee filter or allow it to settle.
  • Draw off the clear water.

If you use household chlorine bleach to disinfect your water, follow these steps:

  • Add 1/8 teaspoon (or 8 drops; about 0.625 milliliters) of unscented liquid household chlorine (5-6%) bleach for each gallon of clear water (or 2 drops of bleach for each liter or each quart of clear water)
  • Add 1/4 teaspoon (or 16 drops; about 1.50 milliliters) of bleach for each gallon of cloudy water (or 4 drops of bleach for each liter or each quart of cloudy water).
  • Stir the water/bleach mixture well.
  • Let the water stand for thirty minutes or longer before you use it.
  • Store the disinfected water in clean, disinfected containers with tight covers.

If you use iodine to disinfect your water, follow the instructions provided by the manufacturer. Store the disinfected water in clean, disinfected containers with tight covers. Do the same if you are using chlorine dioxide tablets to disinfect your water.

Filtering Water

A number of portable water filters have the ability to remove disease-causing parasites such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium from drinking water. If you choose to use a portable water filter to purify your water, do your best to pick one that has a filter pore size that is small enough to remove not only bacteria, but parasites as well. The majority of portable water filters do not remove viruses! Take the time to carefully read the instructions provided by the water filter manufacturer. Once you have filtered your water, add a disinfectant like chlorine dioxide tablets, iodine, or chlorine to the water you have filtered to kill any remaining bacteria, as well as viruses.

Locating Emergency Water Sources

You can find alternative sources of water both inside and outside of your home. It is important that you Do Not Drink water that has either an unusual color or smell. Do Not Drink water that you suspect or know may be contaminated with toxic chemicals or fuel. Instead - seek a different source of water.

Perhaps one of the largest sources of water located inside of your home, if the water is shut off, is inside of your water heater tank. Many homes have hot water tanks that hold between forty and eighty gallons of water. While the next suggestion may be distasteful to some, the water in the tank, not the bowl, of your toilet is another source - as long as that water has not been chemically treated with cleaners like ones that change the color of the water. You can melt the ice cubes in your freezer too. You can use liquid from canned vegetables and fruits as well. Water that is present in either spas or swimming pools may be used for your own personal hygiene or for cleaning. You cannot; however, use water from spas and swimming pools for drinking.

When water supplies are threatened and the water is shut off, it is important that you listen for reports from officials in your area related to advice on water precautions you can take in your home. It might be necessary to shut off the main water valve in your home in order to prevent contaminants from entering your home's pipes. It is also important to note that drinking alcohol or caffeinated drinks will dehydrate your body, increasing your need to drink water.

Water sources outside of your home can include natural springs, rainwater, rivers, streams, moving bodies of water, lakes, and ponds. Any water you take from an outside source has to be treated with a disinfectant using the methods described in this article.

NEVER Drink Water from home heating water heaters, water beds, or radiators.

Water beds often have fungicides added to the water, or chemicals from the vinyl that make the water unsafe to drink. Radiators rust on the inside, as well as presenting additional water dangers. Water that comes from hot water heaters that are a part of your home heating system has the potential to be contaminated - this does not include a hot water heater that is connected to your drinking water supply.

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