Can Storms Affect Your Drinking Water?

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Joseph Rodrigues from Mobile District talks with a homeowner about the damage to her home.
Drinking water safety is one of the lesser known hazards of a severe storm.

The days following a hurricane can be just as dangerous as the storm itself. In many regions, the high winds and flooding brought by these tropical storms can compromise the integrity of entire buildings and throw whole cities into disarray. Avoiding downed power lines is common sense, but unseen hazards can be just as dangerous. There’s no better example of that than contaminated drinking water.

When a hurricane strikes, the water reserves of entire communities can be subjected to tap water contamination. The severity can vary based on the specific conditions brought on by each hurricane, but in the early stages of cleanup, it’s smart to err on the side of caution. If you’re in the process of recovering from a hurricane, you need to take action to ensure you don’t drink contaminated and dangerous drinking water.

 

Check with local safety officials for water safety updates

After a hurricane strikes, safety officials will alert the public about  safety concerns, including the quality of local drinking water. Listen to the local radio and other news reports to determine what courses of action are recommended. If the damage from the hurricane is mild, it’s possible that no contamination occurred. But always assume water to be contaminated until you hear otherwise from local officials.

 

Boil water to disinfect

In many cases, local health officials will issue a boil-water notice if they suspect water to be contaminated from a storm. If you are unsure of water’s safety, boil your water anyway. Heat water to a boil and continue to boil it for at least one minute before removing it from the heat. This should kill any bacteria in the water.

 

Purchase chlorine or iodine disinfectants

An alternative to boiling water is using water disinfectants or even personal water filters to cleanse water. Chlorine and iodine are inexpensive chemicals that can be used to purify unclean water. Similarly, personal, portable water filters can also be of benefit by removing lead, sediments, bacteria and other pollutants from water. But before you use a water filter, make sure local health officials list it as a safe alternative to effectively cleansing tap water – different contaminations could require different responses.

 

Stay away from standing water left over from the storm

Even after a hurricane has done its damage, standing water is often present in many areas. It’s important that all standing water be avoided until it can be properly addressed by cleanup crews. Standing water could be contaminated with sewage, and downed electrical wires could result in electrical currents coursing through the water. Make sure children steer well clear of these potential hazards, as well.

In hurricane disaster areas, it’s common for emergency response crews to shuttle in clean drinking water to be dispersed among the needy. If you can get your water from these sources, you won’t have to fear the risk of contamination. Even under normal circumstances, there are many benefits to filtering your own water at home. Just remember that in emergency conditions, you may need to go a step further and boil water.