Hurricane Sandy Floods Compromise Drinking Water Quality, Cause Health Concerns for Victims
As victims Super Storm Hurricane Sandy assess the damage they have sustained and start cleaning up and rebuilding, their access to safe drinking water is increasingly urgent.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns that only properly disinfected water should be used for drinking, cooking, making any prepared drink, or for brushing teeth.
The Dangers of Waterborne Illness
Waterborne illness can represent a significant threat to your family’s health. Some researchers estimate the number of US waterborne disease outbreaks between 1971 and 2002 at approximately 764, resulting in over 575,000 cases of illness and 79 deaths. Other estimates are much higher (see the 2008 study by Reynolds et al., for example). Don’t take a chance when it comes to drinking water!
How to Disinfect Drinking Water
It is important to drink water that is clean from contamination. Here are several ways to make sure the water you and your family drink is clean
In all cases, 911water recommends that you purchase a gravity fed water filter system.
Filtering Your Own Drinking Water
If you own a gravity fed water filter, such as the Berkey Water Filter System, you can use it to filter out 99.99999% of contaminants using any source of water except saltwater. If your water filter is connected to your water supply line, regardless of whether your source is municipally treated water or well water, you must have water pressure in order to obtain water, and therefore you may not be able to utilize it. If you are on well water and have a pump, your water pressure may depend on whether you have electricity.
City water serves the majority of US residents. Be sure to check with your local municipal water source for specific information about your water supply.
About 15 percent of the US population obtains its drinking water from groundwater through wells. Flooding can contaminate the water in wells, especially if fuel oil or other chemical contaminants from industrial or agricultural companies are spilled. After a flood, you should test your water and disinfect it. The EPA recommends that those drinking water from wells contact their local or state health department or agricultural extension agent for specific advice.
Use only unopened bottled water
If unopened water bottles have been exposed to flood waters, bottle exteriors should be assumed to be contaminated and should be cleaned and disinfected:
- Clean: Remove all loose dirt and debris from bottle exterior
- Disinfect:Apply a chlorine bleach disinfecting solution (3/4 cup of household liquid bleach to 1 gallon of water) to bottle exterior.Keep bottle exterior wet for 2 minutes, then rinse thoroughly and dry.
Boil Water to make it safe
If you have source of heat that you can use safely, boil water vigorously for one minute to kill most types of disease-causing organisms that may be present. (If you live at an altitude greater than one mile, boil for three minutes.)
If your water source is cloudy, filter it through a clean cloth before boiling it. Alternatively, or in addition, allow particles in the water to settle and draw off the water above for boiling, leaving the sediment behind.
Allow water to cool after boiling. Store boiled water in a clean container with a tightly fitted cover. (It is recommended that water be stored in the vessel in which it has been boiled to prevent potential re-contamination in transferring it to another container). To improve the flat taste of boiled water, pour it back and forth from one clean container to another and allow it to stand for a few hours, or add a pinch of salt for each quart or liter of water boiled.
Disinfect with Chemicals
If boiling water is not an option, water can be disinfected with household chlorine bleach (label will indicate “5.25 percent available chlorine”). Do not use non-chlorine bleach as it is not approved for emergency water disinfection. Chlorine bleach will kill many types of disease-causing organisms in tainted drinking water. Of all the options listed here, chlorination is the least expensive. It is also the only option that offers a residual level of protection from re-contamination as water is stored.
If water is cloudy, before treating it with bleach, filter it through a clean cloth and/or allow particulate matter to settle, drawing off the water above and leaving the sediment behind.
To disinfect water with chlorine bleach, add 1/8 teaspoon (or eight drops) of regular, unscented, liquid household bleach for each gallon of water. Stir well with a clean implement and let water stand for 30 minutes before using. Store disinfected water in a clean container with a tightly fitted cover.