Disaster Emergencies

Emergency Sanitation of Water Supply

How Does Water Become Contaminated In A Disaster Situation?
A disaster such as a flood or an earthquake may contaminate water when sewage systems are damaged or when there are breaks in the water lines.

Contaminated water can cause many illnesses.

It is best to have a supply of water on hand to prepare for these times; however, this fact sheet will help you if you did not plan ahead, and you need to find purified water now.
How Will I Know If My Water Has Been Contaminated?
When it is suspected that water supplies have been contaminated with sewage, there will be a public announcement to boil the water. This is known as a "boil water order."

If there is any chance of your water being contaminated, do not drink it or use it for food preparation (culinary purposes) or tooth brushing.
What Is A Boil Order?
A boil order is a notification made by the Niagara County Department of Health, Office of Emergency Management, water system operators or regulators, or government departments advising people who share a water source that the water is contaminated with bacteria. This order advises people to boil the contaminated water prior to using it in order to make it safe for drinking. Public notification of the boil order is made to ensure that every water user on the affected system has knowledge of the contamination.
How Is It Determined That A Boil Order Is Necessary?
A boil order is issued based upon (but not limited) to the following criteria:

  • Presence of fecal coliform;
  • Evidence of a suspected source of contamination;
  • Coliform contamination of source;
  • Signs of flood water near or over the source of supply.
How Can I Identify Purified Water?
Purified water can be prepared by anyone at home, or it can be purchased. Instructions are provided below on how to purify water at home.

Canned drinks, such as juices, pop, or beer can be considered purified.

Boiling water kills bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can cause illness. Treating water with chlorine bleach kills most disease causing bacteria and viruses; however it probably will not kill parasites. Boiling is a more effective water purification method than treating water with chlorine bleach.

People who have weakened immune systems and who are in an area where the water has been contaminated should always rely on boiling as their home water purification method, or they should buy distilled bottled water or canned drinks.

Use purified water within six months of its purification or purchase date to assure safety and obtain the best quality.
How Do I Boil Water To Purify It?
Fill a large pot with water after straining the water through a coffee filter or cheesecloth to remove dirt and other particles.

Bring the water to a rolling boil and keep it boiling for 3 minutes.

Pour the water into a disinfected drinking water bottle.

Store in the refrigerator, if possible.
How Do I Use Chlorine Bleach To Purify Water?
Strain the water through a coffee filter or cheesecloth to remove dirt and other particles.

It is easiest to use gallon size drinking water containers to calculate the correct chlorine bleach solution.

Pour a mixture of 1/8 teaspoon or about 8 drops of pure, unscented, household chlorine bleach into the gallon size, purified drinking water container. (This is a chlorine residual of about 8 parts per million (ppm)).  Let this stand at least 30 minutes without drinking the water.

If the water is still cloudy after 30 minutes, you may add an additional 1/8 teaspoon or 8 drops of chlorine bleach to the gallon size container. Let the water stand another 30 minutes.

If the water is still cloudy after the second treatment do not drink the water.

CAUTION:  Do not use more chlorine bleach than recommended because excessive amounts can be poisonous!
Can I Depend On Water Treatment Devices To Purify Water Adequately In These Situations?
NO. Most home water treatment systems have not been designed to treat turbid, contaminated drinking water. The filter can become clogged quickly reducing fixture output or overloading the filter, and providing no protection against bacteria and viruses in the water.
How Much Water Do I Need?
Store at least one gallon of water per person, per day in a cool, dark place. The average individual must drink at least two quarts of water every day. Children, nursing mothers, the elderly and people in warmer climates need more. Additional water should be reserved for personal hygiene and food preparation. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security encourages individuals to store enough water to last a minimum of three days - bearing in mind that water is needed for drinking as well as for personal hygiene.


What Are The Best Type Of Containers To Use To Store Water?

Use clean plastic or glass containers such as soft drink bottles or canning jars that have tight fitting screw caps.

Do not use milk bottles - they do not seal well.

Water containers should be disinfected before filling them with purified water the first time and disinfected again each time they are refilled.
How Do I Disinfect A Drinking Water Container?
Containers can be purified either by using bleach as a chemical disinfectant or by boiling the container.

Plastic containers cannot be boiled.

Before using either method provided below to disinfect a container, wash the container thoroughly with soap and water, and rinse out the container with water.
How Do I Use Bleach To Disinfect A Water Container?
Pour a solution of 2 teaspoons of liquid household bleach to a gallon of water into the container.  (This is a chlorine residual of about 150 ppm –DO NOT DRINK THIS WATER)

Let the solution remain in the container for 10 minutes, then pour out the solution.

Rinse the container with purified water. Pour out the rinse water.

Fill the container again with purified water, then cap the container for later use.

Use the stored water within six months.
How Do I Boil A Water Container To Disinfect It?
You may boil glass bottles or jars to disinfect them.

In a large pan submerge the glass bottle or jar in water.

Bring to a rolling boil and then boil the container for 10 minutes.

Fill the glass bottles and jars with purified water and cap the container for later use.

Use the stored water within six months.

What Are Hidden Water Supplies?
Hidden water supplies are unusual and emergency places to find water if your water supplies are gone. Water supplies can become damaged in an emergency which can lead to contamination of normal water supplies.
What Are Some Hidden Sources Of Water Inside Your Home?
Water can be drained from the drain spout of a water heater. Be sure the electricity and/or gas are off before opening the drain. Drain the water into a storage container.

Water can be drained from the pipes inside your home. Open a faucet on the top floor of your home. Next go to the faucet at the lowest point in your home. Open the faucet and drain out the water you need into a storage container.

Water from your toilet storage, or reserve tank, can be used if no chemicals have been used in this tank. Do not use this water if it is blue in color because chemicals have been used.

Water that has been placed in ice cube trays in the freezer can be used.
What Are Some Hidden Water Supplies Outside Your Home?
hese sources can be considered as a potential source; however, they may contain chemical or bacterial pollutants which could be hazardous to your health.

  • Rainwater
  • Rivers and Streams
  • Ponds
  • Lakes
  • Natural Springs
  • Swimming Pools
Boil water from these sources for at least 10 minutes prior to drinking.

 CAUTION:  Chemical pollutants will not be removed by boiling.
What Are Water Sources To Be Avoided?
Avoid water that contains solid materials, has an odor, or has a dark color.