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What do you do during a ‘boil water advisory?’
A few weeks ago, the village of Dansville issued a “boil water advisory.” For most people, this only amounted to an inconvenience, but there is the potential for this to be a serious concern for some.
After the advisory was lifted, I received a call from a resident who asked me to dig a little deeper into what this situation means for the average person and how to respond.
A boil water notice or advisory is issued when routine testing has shown the presence of bacteria or other organisms that could make someone sick.
Usually the culprit is a strain of bacteria in the E. coli family which is found in fecal matter. Another infectious agent that can contaminate drinking water is called cryptosporidium.
Both of these organisms can cause severe diarrhea, cramps and nausea. In the very young, the elderly and anyone with a weakened immune system, these symptoms can become life-threatening. For most healthy adults, it is unpleasant but manageable.
A boil water advisory can also be issued if there is a problem somewhere in the water treatment or delivery system that increases the possibility of contamination.
In order to make the water safe to drink, it must be brought to a rolling boil for at least one minute. When it has cooled, it can be refrigerated in clean containers.
If you don’t like the taste, you can add a pinch of salt per quart. Water can also be disinfected by adding one eighth of a teaspoon of household bleach without any dyes or perfumes to a gallon of contaminated water.
This can only be done if the infectious organism is E. coli. Cryptosporidium is not killed by this type of bleach treatment.
All water that will be consumed in any form should be boiled. This includes water for drinking, preparing food (especially infant formula), drinks, ice cubes, washing fruits and vegetables or brushing teeth. It is not necessary to boil water for bathing or laundry, although infants and toddlers should be sponge-bathed to minimize the chance of them swallowing contaminated water.
For the purposes of making coffee, boiled or bottled water should be used because coffee makers do not bring the water to boiling temperature. When making tea, make sure to boil the water for the full one minute.
If you have an ice maker that is hooked up to the household water supply, you must discard all the ice that is on hand and turn off the supply line to the refrigerator so no more can be made until the water supply is safe. Check with the manufacturer to see how to flush and sanitize the water line once the boil water advisory has been lifted.
As for pets, usually the same organisms that make humans sick do not affect them, but to be on the safe side, use boiled or bottled water for them.
Washing dishes is fine in the dishwasher if you use the sanitizing cycle. If you hand wash dishes, follow these steps from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
• Wash the dishes as you normally would.
• As a final step, immerse the dishes for at least one minute in lukewarm water to which a teaspoon of bleach per gallon of water has been added.
• Allow the dishes to completely air dry.
Once the advisory is lifted, home water pipes should be flushed. The following procedure should do it:
• Flush water lines by running all cold water faucets in the home for approximately one (1) minute.
• Run water softeners through a regeneration cycle.
• Run drinking water fountains for one minute.
• Run water through direct water connections for five minutes.
Hopefully, we won’t need these instructions again for a while. But it’s good to know what to do when the time comes.
Pam Maxson is a health educator at Noyes Hospital in Dansville. If you have questions or suggestions for future articles, she can be reached at email@example.com or 335-4327.