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How to disinfect water in the case of an emergency

Posted on Friday, September 8, 2017 at 12:42 pm

When a weather emergency occurs, the effects can prove devastating. Natural disasters like hurricanes have turned cities upside down, floods have caused the deaths of thousands and snowstorms have shut communities down for days.

A weather emergency, be it a natural disaster or a heavy storm, can contaminate the local supply of drinking water and disrupt the wastewater disposal system. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, such a disruption or contamination can directly threaten a person’s health. As a result, it’s important for men and women to know how to disinfect their drinking water should an emergency occur and the supply be at risk.

The easiest way to avoid health issues that arise from a contaminated water supply is to keep plenty of bottled water on hand and use as drinking water and when cooking. So long as the bottled water has not been exposed to flood waters, it will be safe to drink.

If an emergency strikes and you don’t have any bottled water at home, don’t panic. Boiling water can help make the water safe, killing most types of disease-causing organisms that might be present. Boil water for one minute before allowing it cool and then store in containers for later use.

In an emergency situation, the water could very well be cloudy. This is also not a cause for panic. Instead, filter the water through clean cloths or just allow it to settle. When allowed to settle, chances are the cloudy water will clear up within minutes. Once it does, use the clear water when boiling.

If there’s no means to boiling the water, you can use household bleach as a disinfectant. Bleach is effective at killing some, but not all, disease-causing organisms that might be in the water. If the water is cloudy, filter it through clean cloths or allow it to settle before attempting to disinfect it. Once the water is clear, use this clear water for disinfection. When ready to disinfect the water, the EPA recommends adding 1/8 teaspoon (or roughly eight drops) of regular, unscented liquid household bleach for each gallon of water. Do not use non-chlorine bleach to disinfect water. Once added, stir the bleach and water mixture well, then let it stand for 30 minutes before use. Once disinfected, store the water in clean containers with covers.

The treated water should have a slight odor of chlorine. If it does not, repeat the process and allow the water to stand for an additional 15 minutes. After this step, if the treated water exhibits a strong odor of chlorine or tastes strongly of chlorine, allow the water to stand exposed to the air for a few hours or pour the water from one clean container to another several times.

For those who rely on well water, in the case of a flood have the water tested and disinfected once the flood waters have receded.

Should a weather emergency occur and the water supply be disrupted or contaminated, heed the advice of local health departments or public water systems. More information about disinfecting water and surviving a weather emergency is available at