Boil-water alerts, sometimes called boil-water advisories, can occur with public drinking water supplies at certain times if it is considered that there is a risk to drinking water, e.g. after a storm or power outage. If these happen, you should boil water before consuming it and follow issued guidelines to avoid the risk of illness. Alternatively, you can access alternative drinking water supplies. Here is a brief guide on what to do.
A boil-water alert is a public announcement, usually issued by a local public health officer, advising residents to boil water accessed from their main water supply before consuming it. Boil-water alerts can occur in any area supplied with safe drinking water when there is a risk that the water could be contaminated by pathogens such as E.Coli.
When boil-water alerts have been issued, it is strongly advisable to bring water to the boil for at least one minute before using when drinking, preparing food, brushing your teeth or cleaning products in contact with food or drink (e.g. washing up). Dishwashers and other machinery that boils water are still OK to use but standard water filter systems won't necessarily remove the pathogens, so boiling is still recommended.
Typically, boil-water alerts last for 24-48 hours although they can be longer. Local public health authorities will notify residents when water is safe to consume again.
Central drinking water supplies are available because of treatment processes that remove microbiological contaminants from the supply before it reaches households and public facilities. However, contaminated water can enter the system in certain circumstances such as:
Boil-water alert notices are not uncommon, even in countries with a good central supply of drinking water. Sometimes they will be issued as a precautionary measure, sometimes because a more serious problem has been detected.
Examples of places that have issued boil-water alerts in recent years are:
The first thing to remember is don't panic. Public health authorities will often issue warnings as precautionary to be on the safe side. Even if there is an issue with contamination, it is unlikely to be major and the worst that is likely to happen to anyone consuming supplies is diarrhea, nausea or vomiting.
However, this is unpleasant enough so it's worth taking steps to avoid unnecessary illness. You should:
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