Surviving a Boil Notice

With the amount of news coverage on public water contaminations, lack of regulations and aging treatment plants, I don’t trust any tap water.

I believe every drop of water that comes out of our faucets should be filtered before being used for consumption.

But there are times when we all experience tap water that is worse than normal. That’s when water utilities or local health agencies will issue a boil notice. A “boil-water advisory” or “boil-water order” is a public health alert given by government or health authorities to consumers when a community’s drinking water is, or could be, contaminated by pathogens.

You’ve probably experienced this more than once in your town. This can occur from routine maintenance being done at water plants, construction, damage from storms or other events or a result of old water pipes breaking or leaking.

Other common reasons for a boil water notice include loss of pressure in the distribution system, loss of disinfection and other unexpected water quality problems. These often result from other events such as water line breaks, treatment disruptions, power outages and floods.

When a boil notice is issued, you should not use the water from your tap at all until it has been boiled.

Some people use tap water as their primary water source, while others choose to drink filtered water through the fridge or a tabletop filter. If you’re not already filtering out the contaminants in your tap water as part of your routine, you’re going to want to closely follow a set of instructions when you receive a boil notice.

People who drink contaminated water are setting themselves up for a variety of potential problems, including nausea, cramps, diarrhea, jaundice, fatigue, headaches and more.

NOTE: If you have reason to believe your water might contain lead or another hard mineral or contaminant, do not boil your water. This will only serve to condense the contamination. It will not make it safe to drink.

Below are some of those instructions I mentioned, as well as a couple of ways to boil water.

  • Do not drink the water coming out of your taps.
  • Only drink bottled water or water you have purified.
  • Don’t even use a small amount of that unfiltered tap water in a recipe.
  • Turn off your refrigerator icemaker immediately. After the boil notice is over, you might forget that ice cubes were made with tainted water.
  • Don’t use faucet water for taking a bath or shower.
  • Only wash dishes in your dishwasher if you are certain it will heat up to at least 170 degrees.
  • Hold off on doing laundry in your machine until the boil notice ends.
  • Don’t give your pets water from the tap. It could make them ill.

None of us knows when a boil notice is coming. That’s why it’s important to be prepared. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Stock up on bottled water from a reliable source.
  • Keep that bottled water in a cool, dark and dry place. It will be good for drinking, bathing, teeth-brushing and even cleaning.
  • Make sure you have enough of that bottled water. I’d suggest 1.5 gallons per person per day. And plan for a seven-day boil notice to be on the safe side.
  • Unless you are handy enough to build a makeshift shower, use some of the water for sponge baths if the boil notice remains in effect for longer than a day or two.
  • If you need to conserve on your bottled water, use hand sanitizer for some hand washing.
  • If you have children or grandchildren in your home who might use a faucet out of habit, mark each handle with tape, put up signs or disable them.
  • Once the boil notice is rescinded, run each of your faucets for at least 15 minutes before using the water again.

OK, as promised, here are a couple of ways to boil water.

  • The first is the obvious one. Pour water from the tap into a pot and place it on the stove. Make sure the water boils for at least three minutes. Let the water cool before using it.
  • But what if the power is out? Start a fire in your fireplace or outdoors and place rocks in the fire. Once the rocks are very hot, remove them with tongs and place them in the pot of water.

As I mentioned earlier, the best way to keep your water free of contaminants is with a water purifier. But if you don’t have one, follow the instructions to stay safe during a boil notice.

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