How to avoid drinking contaminated water after a hurricane
By Ashley Williams, AccuWeather staff writer
When a hurricane crashes onto shore with destructive winds and deadly storm surge, its threat to clean water supply is a major concern.
Consuming contaminated water can lead to serious health problems, including gastrointestinal illness and reproductive issues, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Contaminants can also cause diseases such as dysentery, cholera and hepatitis, according to FEMA.
The CDC states that children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems are particularly at risk.
Taking extra caution with water consumption is essential after heavy inland flooding, which could contaminate drinking water and impact wastewater utilities.
Pipes broken by washouts or uprooted trees can lead to sewage spills or low water pressure, which puts utilities at risk for contamination, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“As long as the utility maintains good pressure, the water is less likely to be contaminated from soil and storm water,” said Ron Trygar, senior training specialist at the University of Florida Training, Research and Education for Environmental Occupations (UF TREEO).
Lack of pressure in the water system increases the likelihood of dirty storm water leaking into the lines, he said.
According to the EPA, more than 690 drinking water and wastewater utilities across 11 states and Washington, D.C., were impacted in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
In the two months following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the EPA found no occurrences of waterborne illnesses or diseases resulting from contaminated drinking water in some states, including Mississippi.
Thousands of people in Haiti were not as fortunate after Hurricane Matthew devastated the country in 2016 as a Category 4 storm.
In the weeks after the hurricane, lack of clean drinking water led to a cholera outbreak, according to the Associated Press.
“The thing to remember is that after a hurricane, any water is potentially contaminated, especially from the faucet,” said Richard Lowe, author of "Real-World Survival."
Water that appears dark and cloudy or has a smell is likely tainted.
Lowe recommended steering clear of unsafe water, even for personal hygiene.
“[The water] might have chemical contaminants that could hurt your skin or cause problems with allergies or even worse,” he said.
FEMA considers melted ice cubes, liquid from canned fruit and vegetables and water drained from pipes or a water heater to be safe sources.
Utilities will often issue boil water advisories before a storm makes landfall or when the water is possibly contaminated.
Boiling water will kill most types of disease-causing organisms that could be present, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“If people do actually have water pressure out of their sinks, they’re told to make sure to boil that water before consuming it,” Trygar said.
It is recommended that water be boiled for one minute and left to cool inside clean containers.
Liquid chlorine bleach or water purification tablets can also be used to disinfect water.
Consumers should avoid all contact with the water supply if a Do Not Use notice is issued, as boiling will not destroy all contaminants, according to the Water Quality Research Foundation.
“There’s the potential for other things to be in there that could be more concentrated if you boil the water,” Trygar said.
Bottled water that hasn’t been exposed to floodwaters is recommended, in this case.
For drinking and personal hygiene, FEMA recommends storing at least three days' worth of water per person in a cool, dark place.
People living in warmer climates may need to double their bottled water supply, according to FEMA.
Well water could also be contaminated due to flooding.
Flooded wells should be tested and disinfected after the water levels go down, according to the FDA.
For more safety and preparedness tips, visit AccuWeather.com/Ready.
Comments that don't add to the conversation may be automatically or manually removed by Facebook or AccuWeather. Profanity, personal attacks, and spam will not be tolerated.
More Weather News
Weather News - July 22, 2019, 5:03:19 PM EDT
The condition of crops is ‘just not improving so far,’ but there’s some hope ahead
Weather News - July 22, 2019, 10:42:51 PM EDT
The system was packing 30-mph sustained winds on Monday afternoon, and if it reaches tropical storm strength, it will be named Chantal.
Weather News - July 22, 2019, 3:05:31 PM EDT
Summer activities came to a tragic halt in Indiana and Florida this weekend after thunderstorms unleashed deadly and damaging lightning strikes.
Weather News - July 22, 2019, 10:32:42 PM EDT
After a deadly heat wave baked the northeastern US over the weekend, violent thunderstorms and flooding downpours are sweeping across the region and signaling an end to the torrid weather.
Weather News - July 22, 2019, 2:08:35 PM EDT
A significant part of the Northeast baked over the weekend -- especially where some metropolitan areas only "cooled off" to lows of 83 at night.
Weather News - July 22, 2019, 12:00:14 PM EDT
Downpours are set to expand over more than 90 percent of India this week as some locations continue to endure life-threatening flooding.
Weather News - July 22, 2019, 3:16:05 PM EDT
The North American monsoon is ramping up across the southwestern United States after one of the latest starts on record this week.
Weather News - July 22, 2019, 10:35:20 AM EDT
Intense heat is set to build across much of the United Kingdom this week and will be accompanied by high humidity.