As soon as water mains break or some other ’emergency’ gets declared by your local water company or water utility, those companies notify the media and ask them to announce boil water advisories for affected areas… but what does that mean to the average person?

Without getting too detailed, it means the folks living in the affected areas should observe the following precautions until the boil water advisories get lifted (or canceled):

  • Boil water for one minute prior to drinking or food preparation, or use bottled water.
  • Dispose of ice cubes and do not use ice from a household automatic icemaker until authorities give the all clear notification and you have purged your home’s water lines and the water line leading to the icemaker.
  • Disinfect dishes and other food contact surfaces by immersion for at least one minute in clean (boiled) tap water or bottled water that contains one teaspoon of unscented household bleach per gallon of water. Note: The more ‘gunk’ a surface has on it, the quicker the bleach level in your wash water will diminish.
  • Water used for bathing typically does not need to get boiled prior to use however during showering and bathing one should take care not to ingest water. Children should have supervision to discourage accidental ingesting of bath/shower water and persons with cuts, severe rashes or other afflictions of the skin should consult their physician prior to bathing, as unwanted bacteria in the water could possibly enter their body through those areas.
  • If tap water appears dirty, flush the water lines by letting the water run until it clears before using the water. After the all clear notification goes out you should run water from all available taps, faucets and spigots for a few minutes to purge your home’s water system of older, possibly contaminated water.

What Triggers Boil Water Advisories?

Municipal water systems have a slight amount of pressure in them that forces water out through any available openings in the systems. Usually those openings consist of faucets, drinking fountains, spigots, etc. Water systems do not exist in a stress-free vacuum, though, so over time small cracks, leaks and fissures may form in pipes… and as long as the system remains pressurized no outside matter can typically infiltrate the systems.

But, when a water main breaks or some other event causes a pressure drop to occur in the system, the lack of pressure in the system could allow foreign matter such as bacteria, parasites and/or unwanted debris to slip into the system through those cracks and/or fissures in pipes.

When that happens, water companies will issue boil water advisories through local media outlets. Once water pressure gets restored and tests come back negative for system contamination, water companies will cancel the boil water advisories.

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