Today I wanted to discuss a particular type of water emergency; a “boil notice” or “boil alert notification”. These notifications happen quite often around the USA (see a recent one here). But there is a very important point that they never tell you. You need to understand what it is.
First, what is a “boil alert notification”? When the water flowing to your tap contains, or is suspected to contain a biological contaminant, such as E. coli, the municipal water company will often (not always) tell you to boil the water before you consume it. Boiling the water will kill biological contaminants.
It’s important to keep in mind that creating an infrastructure that provides us with tap water that is safe from biological contaminants was (and still is) a HUGE step forward for public safety. And it’s something that we all completely take for granted.
Sometimes however, something goes wrong and biological contaminants pass through the pipes to our faucets, which puts us at risk. The largest such event to happen in recent times was the cryptosporidium outbreak that hit Milwaukee in 1993. More than 400,000 people became ill and over 100 died as a result.
Biological outbreaks can be very dangerous for a few reasons. First, biological contaminants are obviously living organisms, which means that they can grow and multiply. Second, biological contaminants can make you extremely ill within a matter of days.
But there is one extremely important point that no one ever tells you regarding boil alerts: if you are using a filter or reverse osmosis system in your home, your filter is now contaminated with potentially dangerous bacteria. This can be a very serious situation, because the bacteria can become trapped in the filter, but it’s not dead. It can grow and multiply, and it can actually grow through your filter and cause a breach. In fact, if bacteria get trapped in your RO System or filter then grow and multiply, they can then be released into your water in amounts higher than the event that prompted the initial boil alert. This is, in fact, one of the biggest problems with filters.
Your filter or RO System could be contaminated with bacteria right now without you knowing it. If you’ve ever removed your filter and seen a green or black slime on it, you have a bacteria colony growing on your filter. This could be a reason for mystery illnesses in your family.
If you have a filter or RO System and there has been a boil notice, you need to…
- stop using your filter or RO System immediately until after the danger has passed
- remove the filter/membrane and then thoroughly disinfect the system and the lines in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions
- after the danger has passed and the system and the lines have been disinfected, replace the filter.
Alternatively, instead of using a filter or reverse osmosis system, you could install a good water distiller in your home. This is what I do. If you are using a good water distiller, you don’t need to worry about boil notices or many other types of water emergencies.