Safe water use during prolonged boil water advisory

October 26, 2018

Austin, Texas is currently under a boil water notice due to tap water being unsafe to drink from recent flooding and excess rains that have contaminated the water supply. Residents are being encouraged to boil water for at least three minutes before drinking or cooking, but are not being restricted from bathing or washing clothes.

While under these types of extreme water restrictions, daily routines such as washing hands, bathing, cooking, and staying hydrated require forethought and a little planning. Below are some common problems and solutions.

Hand Washing  

  • The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that in the absence of soap or clean running water to use alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. 
  • The CDC also suggests keeping the alcohol-based sanitizer out of reach of young children as ingestion can cause alcohol poisoning.1

Bathing

  • Although the water may not be drinkable, it may be pure enough for bathing. This should be assessed on a case-by-case basis. While water may be safe enough for bathing, be careful not to swallow any water or get it in your eyes.2
  • Consider skipping traditional baths during a boiling water advisory. Limit exposure to unsafe water by shifting to a sponge bath with bottled water. This allows you to stay clean, decrease risks of infection, and avoid swallowing contaminated water. A secondary option is to use no-rinse bathing wipes. 

Brushing Teeth

Use bottled or water that was previously boiled to brush teeth.2  

Cooking

  • Wash all fruits and vegetables with waters that has been boiled for at least one minute and cooled. You may also use bottled water.3
  • Use boiled or bottled water when preparing drinks, such as coffee, tea, or lemonade.3
  • You may use  tap water for washing dishes, if you use the following steps:
    • wash dishes with hot, soapy water;  and then
    • rinse dishes with bottled water or previously boiled water.
  • Only use ice that has been made with bottled or boiled water. Throw out ice made from tap water or ice made in automatic ice makers.2

Wound care

  • If you have to manage an open wound with irrigation, the CDC suggests using normal saline for irrigation.  However, if normal saline is not present, it is acceptable to use bottled water. To help conserve water and gain extra pressure for irrigation, consider using a large bore needle and syringe.3
  • When using a large bottle or container of safe water, pour the water you intend to use into a sterile bowl.  This helps to prevent any contamination of your clean water supply

Sources

  1. Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene (WASH)-related Emergencies & Outbreaks. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at  https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/emergency/hygiene-handwashing-diapering/index.html . Accessed October 26, 2018.
  2. Fact Sheet About What to Do During a Boil Water Advisory. Drinking Water Advisory Communication Toolbox. Available for download at https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/emergency/dwa-comm-toolbox/before/tools/What-to-Do-During-a-Boil-Water-Advisory.docx. Accessed October 26, 2108.
  3. Emergency Wound Management for Healthcare Professionals. Natural Disasters and Severe Weather. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Available at https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/emergwoundhcp.html. Accessed October 26, 2018.
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