The following frequently asked questions are courtesy of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.
How do I boil my water so that it is safe to drink?
Bring water to a full rolling boil and let it boil for one minute. Allow water to cool before use. Because water may take 30 minutes to cool, plan ahead. Make up a batch of boiled water in advance so you will not be tempted to use it hot and risk scalds or burns. Boiled water may be used for drinking, cooking, and washing.
What if I have a water pitcher dispenser with a filter?
Most of these units are not capable of removing pathogens, including viruses, bacteria, and protozoa. The few that are designed to do so, may still require disinfection to address viruses and must be properly operated and diligently maintained to ensure effective treatment. It is recommended that you use boiled (and then cooled) water or an alternate source such as bottled water.
What is an acceptable alternate source for safe drinking water?
Acceptable alternate sources for drinking water include bottled water or water from a building that is not on the affected list.
Can I use my water for cooking?
No, any water used for food preparation or cooking needs to be from an acceptable alternate source (bottle water) or boiled first.
What if I am boiling my water as part of the cooking process?
It is more protective to boil the water first, to prevent the potential for inadequate heating. The cooking process should bring the water to a full rolling boil for at least one minute before adding the food item (for example, making pasta). If the water will be at a slight boil for a long time, then this will also be protective. For example, you may be cooking beans or boiling chicken for 10-20 minutes.
How should I wash fruit and vegetables and make ice?
Fruits, vegetables, and any other foods that will not be cooked should be washed and rinsed with boiled (and then cooled) water or water from an acceptable alternate source. Similarly, ice should be made with either boiled water or water from an acceptable alternate source.
Can I use my water for making baby formula or drinks?
No, not without precautions! Any water used for baby food, formula, or making beverages must be boiled (and then cooled) or be from an acceptable alternate source.
Is potentially contaminated water safe for washing dishes?
Hand-washed dishes: No! Use boiled (then cooled) water, water from an alternate source, or after washing with dish detergent rinse for a minute in a dilute bleach (1tablespoon of unscented bleach per gallon of water). Allow dishes, cutlery, cups, etc. to completely air dry before use.
Home dishwasher: Yes, if the hot wash is at least 170o F and includes a full dry cycle. However, most home dishwashers do not reach this temperature. If you are uncertain of the temperature of your dishwasher, rinse in dilute bleach and completely air dry as described for hand washed dishes.
Commercial dishwasher: Yes, if it is an NSF listed washer and manufactured and operated with a heat sanitizing rinse set at 170oF that lasts for at least 30 seconds. Additional information on commercial dishwashers can be found in the fact sheets for food service establishments.
CAUTION - "Green" or "Environmentally Friendly" dishwasher additives, which may be advertised as a disinfectant or anti-microbial, are weaker disinfectants and should not be relied on alone to eliminate potential pathogens.
Is potentially contaminated water safe for washing clothes?
Yes, unless a "Do Not Use" notification has been issued, it is safe to wash clothes in tap water as long as the clothes are completely dried before being worn. However, increased turbidity that sometimes occurs during a boil water event may discolor clothing, especially whites.
Can I brush my teeth with the water without boiling it?
No! Any water you ingest or place in your mouth should be disinfected by boiling (and then cooled) or come from an alternate source. Bottled water is excellent for brushing your teeth.
Is potentially contaminated water safe for bathing and shaving?
Unless a "Do Not Use" notification has been issued, your water may be used by healthy individuals for showering, bathing, shaving, and washing as long as care is taken not to swallow water and avoid shaving nicks.
To minimize the chance of infections, people with open wounds, cuts, blisters or recent surgical wounds and people who are immunocompromised or suffer from chronic illness should use boiled water (then cooled) or water from an alternate source*. Children and disabled individuals should be supervised to ensure water is not ingested. Sponge bathing is advisable, and bathing time should be minimized to further reduce the potential for ingestion.
How should I wash my hands during a boil water notice?
Generally, vigorous hand washing with soap and your tap water is safe for basic personal hygiene. If you are washing your hands to prepare food, you should use boiled (then cooled) water, bottled water, or water from another acceptable source for hand washing.
If a "Do Not Use" notification has been issued (as an example, when sewage or chemical contamination is present), your water should not be used for any purpose, including personal hygiene. Only water from an acceptable alternate source should be used instead.
Should I use hand sanitizing lotion or wipes?
Hand sanitizing wipes alone are not enough, especially to clean your hands for making food. Alcohol-based sanitizers work against some common germs (like E. coli, and Salmonella) but may not be
effective for Cryptosporidium and bacterium spores.
Is the water safe to give to my pet?
To be certain, give them water that has been boiled then cooled or water from an acceptable alternate source. Many pets regularly drink some pretty bad water, but pets come in a wide variety with variable resistance to pathogens. Many pets are vulnerable to the same diseases that humans can get from contaminated water and can spread these diseases into the environment or pass them on to their owners. More specific information may be available from your veterinarian, based on the actual animal and conditions for the boil water notice.
What if I have already consumed potentially contaminated water?
The likelihood of becoming ill is low. However, illness is certainly possible, especially for people that have a chronic illness or may be immunocompromised. This is why boil water notices are issued.
Anyone experiencing symptoms of gastroenteritis, such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, with or without fever, should seek medical attention. These symptoms are not unique to exposure to potential contaminants/organisms in the water, and a doctor's involvement is key to identifying the cause of your illness. If your doctor suspects a waterborne illness, you may be asked to provide blood and/or stool samples.
What infectious organisms might be present in contaminated water?
There are many possible waterborne pathogens. The organisms of concern include protozoa such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium; bacteria such as Shigella and E. coli; and viruses.
These organisms primarily affect the gastrointestinal system, causing diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting, with or without fever. Sometimes, these illnesses are contracted by ingesting contaminated water, and in some circumstances, skin contact could also lead to infection. Most of these illnesses are not usually serious or life-threatening except in the elderly, the very young or those who are immune compromised.
What should residents do when the boil water notice is lifted?
Flush household pipes/faucets first: To flush your plumbing, run all your cold water faucets on full for at least 5 minutes each. If your service connection is long or complex (like in an apartment building) consider flushing for a longer period.
Automatic ice makers: Dump existing ice and flush the water feed lines by making and discarding three batches of ice cubes. Wipe down the ice bin with a disinfectant. If your water feed line to the machine is longer than 20 feet, increase to five batches.
Hot water heaters, water coolers, in-line filters, and other appliances with direct water connections or water tanks: Run enough water to completely replace at least one full volume of all lines and tanks. If your filters are near the end of their life, replace them.
Replace other water filters, as they are disposable and may be contaminated. This applies especially to carbon filters and others that are near the end of their life.