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Boil Order

Frequently Asked Questions about Operating Under a Boil Order

What is a Boil Order?

A boil order is an advisory issued by a water system operator (usually a town) stating that the drinking water has possibly been contaminated by dangerous bacteria.

Why has the boil order been called?

It could be as a result of any one of these conditions:
  • A problem with the well or spring supplying the system
  • A problem with the pipelines or water tank
  • A problem, such as a cross connection or back siphon event that caused contamination to enter the water system
  • Recent testing has shown the presence of organisms that could cause illness (e.g. fecal or E. coli bacteria).

What does a boil order mean?

A boil order means the water that comes out of the tap may not be safe to use as you normally would. Do not drink, brush your teeth, cook with or wash fruits and vegetables, or make baby formula with tap water. There are 3 alternatives: 1. Use bottled water for these activities. 2. Boil the water. 3. Use water you stored before the boil order was posted.

How long should I boil my water?

The affected tap water should be boiled for 1+ minutes at sea level. The farther above sea level the longer the water must be boiled. Typical times quotes by experts range from 3 to 5 minutes. Timing starts when the water is brought to a rolling boil.

Can I drink the water?

During a boil order, only bottled water or water that has been boiled for 3-5 minutes should be consumed or used to wash dishes, wash fruits/vegetables, make ice cubes, clean wounds, take medicine, make baby formula, or brush teeth. Consuming unsafe water is the most likely way to become ill.

Can I wash my hands with this water?

Only bottled water or water boiled for 3-5 minutes should be used for hand washing. If tap water must be used to wash hands it should be followed up with the use of a hand sanitizer. Using extra precautions with hand washing ensures that hands are clean for eating.

Can I shower or take a bath in this water?

Yes, so long as you don't have an open sore it is safe to shower or bathe in the tap water. If you have an open sore then there is a chance of infection from the tap water. The primary concern is that the water not be consumed. Instruct children to avoid getting the water in their mouth when bathing. Extra precaution should be taken when bathing infants. Use bottled water or water that has been boiled for 3-5 minutes and cooled for use.

How do I wash my dishes?

Use bottled water or water that has been boiled for 3-5 minutes to wash and rinse dishes. There is no assurance that home dishwashers can completely kill organisms that may be in the water.

Can I wash my clothes in the water?

Yes, you may safely use the water to wash your clothes.

Is it safe to eat in restaurants?

Your local municipality/waterworks is responsible for checking area restaurants to confirm that safe practices are being followed for food preparation, handling, and safe dishwashing.

What do we need to do when the boil order is lifted?

When the order is lifted you should flush water lines and clean the faucet screens. The length of time to flush varies from one residence to the next so consult your local water supplier. Also, purge water-using fixtures and appliances of standing water and/or ice. This includes changing the water filter on refrigerators.

Are swimming pools safe?

As long as proper levels of treatment are maintained then they are safe. Water from swimming pools should never be consumed.

Can my pets drink the water?

Animals generally are not affected in the same way as people by contaminants in the water. An individual may give their pet bottled water or water that has been boiled for 3-5 minutes and cooled if they choose. Fish tanks should not be affected.

Is it safe to breast feed?

Cleaning the breast with soap and bottled water or water boiled for 3-5 minutes and cooled prior to use will provide assurance that the child does not ingest contaminants that may be on the skin.

I am on a well, am I affected?

No. However, if you are concerned about your well, the Health Department can test your well water for a small fee. If you receive a bill for water service then you should observe the boil order.

Are vending machines that mix drinks safe?

Machines that make coffee, tea and hot chocolate use tap water and should not be used until the boil order has been lifted.

Who can be affected?

Anyone who ingests contaminated water may become ill. Infants, young children, the elderly, and people with severely compromised immune systems are at highest risk of illness.

What are the symptoms of water-borne illness?

Disease symptoms may include cramps, diarrhea, fatigue, headaches, nausea and possible jaundice. Symptoms may appear as soon as a few hours to several days after infection and may last more than two weeks. However, these symptoms may also be caused by a number of other factors. If you are ill with these symptoms, contact your health care provider.

What if I drank water already?

There is nothing you can do about the exposure you have already received. If you become ill, contact your health care provider. Follow the above recommendations about using your water until you are told the water is safe again.

How long will the boil order remain in effect?

Each boil order situation is different, making it impossible to predict how long the boil order will remain in effect. At a minimum it is likely to be 48 hours. It will not be lifted until testing shows that the water meets public health standards. Your local water system should notify you when the boil order is lifted.


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This consumer advocate website is protected by copyright 2016 Askdocweb, Inc. All Rights Reserved. This is a layman's report and is not intended to replace discussions with a health care provider. Do not use the information on this forum as a substitute for your doctor's advice. Always consult your doctor before taking any drug and follow your doctor's directions. Source material: Food and Drug Administration, Medline, Physician's Desk Reference, and the largest community of people in the world, those who are concerned about side effects and healthcare.
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