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PEHSU Factsheet: Flooding Aftermath > What if the drinking water is contaminated?

What if the drinking water is contaminated?

posted on Aug 23, 2021

While all people need safe drinking water, it is especially important for children because they are more vulnerable to harm from contaminated drinking water. If a tap water source is potentially contaminated with flood waters, children, pregnant people, and nursing parents should drink only bottled water. Bottled water should also be used to mix baby formula and for cooking. It is also recommended that children are sponge bathed children with warm bottled water until it is certain that tap water is safe to drink.

Children may not show symptoms or become ill from swallowing small amounts of contaminated drinking water. Symptoms can vary by contaminant. If your child drinks water contaminated with disease-causing organisms, he/she/they may experience 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 or cause a child to become ill but could still potentially harm a child’s developing brain or immune system.

Tap water, from either private wells or city water, should be professionally tested or certified as safe by local officials before resuming normal usage.

Private Wells: If there is a flooded well, do NOT turn on the pump, and do NOT flush the well with water. Contact local or state health department or agriculture extension agent for specific guidance on disinfecting your well. View more information on how to manage a flooded well.

Public/City Water Supply: A public water system or local health agency will inform residents if they need to boil water prior to using it for drinking and cooking. View additional information about emergency disinfection of drinking water.

Tap water that has been brought to a rolling boil for at least 1 minute will kill disease-causing organisms. Boiling will not remove many potentially harmful chemicals and may actually increase concentrations of heavy metals (including lead), which can be harmful to a child’s developing brain. 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 detail on disinfecting contaminated drinking water by boiling or by using liquid chlorine bleach consult this guidance from the Washington State Department of Health