Depending on where you live, you either experience boil orders frequently or never hear about them at all. However, every city in the United States of American can potentially experience one of these orders. If one occurs in your area, you need to know how to keep yourself and your family members safe.
States and municipalities issue boil orders when dangerous bacteria contaminate the water supply. You will have to boil your water before you use it or risk getting sick.
Below, you will find all the information you need about boil orders, including what bacteria cause boil orders, how to act during a boil order, and what you can do to avoid this problem in the future.
How Bacteria Contaminate the Water Supply
Contamination occurs when bacteria-infected substances, such as fecal matter, food, or exterior water, seep into the city water system and spread through the pipes to your home. One of the most common contaminants, Escherichia coli (E. coli), multiplies quickly and causes symptoms like:
- Stomach cramps
Most of the time, these symptoms will not lead to permanent damage. However, if your diarrhea becomes especially severe-or if it develops a reddish or bloody color-see your healthcare professional immediately. E. coli infections can turn fatal if you develop these complications and ignore them.
How You Can Tell When Bacteria Infects Your Water
In the event of an outbreak, you’ll receive a boil order in the form of an email, letter, or phone call from your city government. If you’re confused by the order or unsure what it requires, you can always call a water purifying specialist in your area to test your tap water. He or she has specialized equipment that can reveal all kinds of contaminants in addition to bacteria.
You may suspect your water is contaminated before your city issues a boil order, especially if you and your family members develop persistent E. coli symptoms. In that case, contact a water purification company to test your water for contaminants. When bacteria infect water, the water itself often remains clear-a visual inspection won’t necessarily reveal bacteria.
If you have cloudy water, your tap water might contain other contaminants in addition to bacteria, such as metals and dirt. Most importantly, though, remember that no matter how clear or cloudy your water looks, you should stop using tap water as soon as you receive a boil order.
How to Act During a Boil Order
If your city has just issued a boil order, make sure you do the following:
- Do not drink water, make ice cubes, brush your teeth, wash your hands, or wash food with tap water without boiling the water first.
- Boil water before you use it by bringing it to a rolling boil and leaving it at that temperature for a least a minute before you cool it.
- Do not swallow water while you bathe or shower.
- Keep children out of the bath and shower as they could accidentally ingest the water.
- Wash dishes with purified water or put them through the dishwasher on a hot cycle (150°F or higher).
To make this situation easier on yourself and your household, invest in bottled water. And if you cannot use bottled or boiled water, use bleach to purify it instead. Add 1/8 teaspoon of liquid bleach to a gallon of water, mix it, and leave it for a half hour before you drink or otherwise use it. Use twice as much bleach if your water appears cloudy.
What if you do not want to worry about boiling, bleaching, or buying water? Your water conditioning company may have a solution for you. While most water filters cannot guard against bacteria, some can. They use ultraviolet light or chlorine to kill the contaminants and make your water safe even during boil orders. Talk to your preferred filter company to learn more.