Every once in a while you will hear about a community receiving a ‘boil water’ order from its local health officials. Most often these orders get issued because some event, usually an accident of some sort, has resulted in the introduction of unwanted bacteria into the drinking water supply. A water main breaking or traces of excrement from an animal (such as a beaver… see Beaver Fever) managing to get through municipal water treatment systems serve as examples of such events.
Basically speaking, State and Federal governments require that notices go out to anyone possibly affected by compromised water quality standards. These notices typically advise people to boil their drinking (tap) water for at least one full minute before consuming it in any form. One minute of rolling boil should kill off any potentially harmful bacteria.
Affected water consumption uses include brushing of teeth, water used to prepare food, water used for drinking, water used to make ice, water used to clean surfaces where food gets prepared, water used for gargling, water used to clean one’s face, etc.
As a general rule, any water that could find its way into the mouth (directly or indirectly) should get boiled before use.
The agency issuing the ‘water boil order’ will perform routine testing on the affected water supply and notify people when a sufficient number of water tests show that no more harmful bacteria exist in the water.
One should always remember that no government body will provide notification that the water feeding a private wells contains harmful bacteria and that 100% of the responsibility for the purity and safety of well water rests with well owners. Therefore health officials suggest well owners test the levels of bacteria in their water periodically.