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Home > Natural Resources > Disaster Resources

Emergency Disinfection of Drinking Water

We don't think about the USA having drinking water problems, but with the rampaging floods...

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water shortage and water conservation After the drought come the floods...and both cause problems with water, mud and daily needs. We don't think about the USA having drinking water problems, but with the rampaging floods that occasionally hit rural areas -- whether wilderness camping or agricultural areas -- it is smart to at least know what to do. It's also possible to stock water safety products in your emergency kit.

USE ONLY WATER THAT HAS BEEN PROPERLY DISINFECTED FOR DRINKING, COOKING, MAKING ANY PREPARED DRINK, OR FOR BRUSHING TEETH

U.S. federal agencies and the Red Cross recommend these same four steps to disinfect drinking water in an emergency.

  1. Use bottled water that has not been exposed to flood waters if it is available.

  2. If you don't have bottled water, you should boil water to make it safe. Boiling water will kill most types of disease-causing organisms that may be present. If the water is cloudy, filter it through clean cloths or allow it to settle, and draw off the clear water for boiling. Boil the water for one minute, let it cool, and store it in clean containers with covers.

  3. If you can't boil water, you can disinfect it using household bleach. Bleach will kill some, but not all, types of disease-causing organisms that may be in the water. If the water is cloudy, filter it through clean cloths or allow it to settle, and draw off the clear water for disinfection. Add 1/8 teaspoon (or 8 drops) of regular, unscented, liquid household bleach for each gallon of water, stir it well and let it stand for 30 minutes before you use it. Store disinfected water in clean containers with covers.

  4. If you have a well that has been flooded, the water should be tested and disinfected after flood waters recede. If you suspect that your well may be contaminated, contact your local or state health department or agriculture extension agent for specific advice.
In times of crisis, follow advice from local officials. Local health departments or public water systems may urge consumers to use more caution or to follow additional measures than the information provided here.

Look for other sources of potable water in and around your home. When your home water supply is interrupted by natural or other forms of disaster, you can obtain limited amounts of water by draining your hot water tank or melting ice cubes. In most cases, well water is the preferred source of drinking water. If it is not available and river or lake water must be used, avoid sources containing floating material and water with a dark color or an odor. Generally, flowing water is better quality than stagnant water.

Examine the physical condition of the water. When emergency disinfection is necessary, disinfectants are less effective in cloudy, murky or colored water. Filter murky or colored water through clean cloths or allow it to settle. It is better to both settle and filter. After filtering until it is clear, or allowing all dirt and other particles to settle, draw off the clean and clear water for disinfection. Water prepared for disinfection should be stored only in clean, tightly covered, containers, not subject to corrosion.

Choose a disinfection method.

Boiling is the surest method to make water safe to drink and kill disease-causing microorganisms like Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium, which are frequently found in rivers and lakes.

When boiling is not practical, certain chemicals will kill most harmful or disease-causing organisms. For chemical disinfection to be effective, the water must be filtered and settled first.Chlorine and iodine are the two chemicals commonly used to treat water.

You can use granular calcium hypochlorite to disinfect water. Add and dissolve one heaping teaspoon of high-test granular calcium hypochlorite (approximately ¼ ounce) for each two gallons of water, or 5 milliliters (approximately 7 grams) per 7.5 liters of water.

You can use chlorine tablets to disinfect filtered and settled water. Chlorine tablets containing the necessary dosage for drinking water disinfection can be purchased in a commercially prepared form. These tablets are available from drug and sporting goods stores and should be used as stated in the instructions. When instructions are not available, use one tablet for each quart or liter of water to be purified.

You can use tincture of iodine to disinfect filtered and settled water. Common household iodine from the medicine chest or first aid kit may be used to disinfect water. Add five drops of 2 percent U.S. or your country’s approved Pharmacopeia tincture of iodine to each quart or liter of clear water. For cloudy water add ten drops and let the solution stand for at least 30 minutes.

You can use iodine tablets to disinfect filtered and settled water. Purchase commercially prepared iodine tablets containing the necessary dosage for drinking water disinfection at drug and sporting goods stores. Use as stated in instructions. When instructions are not available, use one tablet for each quart or liter of filtered and settled water to be purified.



Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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