Safe Drinking Water
After the Flood
Flooding often leads to the contamination of municipal water systems and private wells, making them unsafe to drink. While all people need safe drinking water, it is especially important for older adults and those with a weakened immune system because they are more vulnerable to harm from contaminated water. Drinking water contaminated with disease-causing organism can cause symptoms similar to the "stomach flu." These include stomach ache, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, and possibly dehydration.
Some contaminants, such as pesticides and gasoline, may cause the water to smell and taste strange, and others such as lead and disease-causing organisms, may not be detectable. Drinking water contaminated with chemicals such as lead or gasoline may not cause immediate symptoms but could still potentially be a source of long-term harm. It is important to follow the advisories issued by your local health department or department of environment and follow their advice.
If you are unsure about the safety of your water supply:
- Never drink from the water supply until local authorities have declared the water as safe.
- Use the water supply only to hose your home or for sanitation purposes (flushing the toilet).
- Buy bottled water for drinking if you can.
- If directed to do so by your local authorities, boil your water for 1 minute to kill all major water-borne bacterial pathogens. Boiling water will not remove many harmful chemicals, and may actually increase concentrations of heavy metals (including lead).
- Chemically treating tap water with either chlorine or iodine will kill many disease-causing organisms, but will not remove harmful chemicals or heavy metals.
For more information, including how to chemically disinfect water when you are unable to boil it, please visit the Emergency Disinfection of Drinking Water section of the EPA website.
Make sure you or your loved ones have access to and drink safe drinking water.
Older adults can be at risk for dehydration because of:
- A decreased thirst sensation
- Medications that increase the risk of dehydration.
- Physical conditions that make it difficult to drink.
For more information on dehydration, please visit the National Institute of Health's medical encyclopedia.
If you have a private drinking water well and suspect that it may be contaminated:
- Never drink or wash with water from the flooded well.
- Leave the pump turned off as there is danger of electric shock.
- Contact your local or state health department for specific advice on disinfecting your well.
- Contact a professional well or pump contractor to disinfect your well.
For more information, please visit the Private Drinking Water Wells section of the EPA’s website.