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Is It Safe to Drink Your Water After a Hurricane?

 

With wind speeds up to 150 miles per hour, hurricanes blow over almost anything in their path, with short and long-term consequences for your drinking water. 

If you live in a hurricane-prone area, you know what the aftermath looks like—water can flood city streets and houses, and often looks opaque and dirty from all the sediment it swept up in its path.[1] It may look dirty, but what does a hurricane really mean for water quality at the tap? 

Hurricanes, and the flooding that they cause, can affect both well-water and municipal water supplies. Flooding can disrupt a city’s water supplies by overwhelming water treatment facilities. As water moves through the landscape, it can pick up bacteria, sewage, agricultural or industrial waste, and chemicals, all of which can harm humans if ingested. 

Hurricanes can also flood rivers with nutrients, causing algal blooms that make water treatment harder, more expensive, and potentially dangerous to your health if you’re on a private well.[2

How Do Hurricanes Affect Your Drinking Water? 

Flooding from hurricane weather primarily impacts sewage systems and coastal areas. Contaminants can find their way into drinking water supplies, too, and so taking precautions can help ensure safety. 

Water contaminants come in many forms, depending on the source: 

  • Physical (like trash and debris, or sediment from erosion)

  • Pathogenic (often from sewage or animal waste) 

  • Chemical (which can come from industry, agriculture, etc.) 

If your water comes from a private well, you should hold off drinking from this source until the flooding has subsided.[3] Even then, testing your well water to check for contaminants is particularly important, as any contaminants in the floodwater are likely to get into well water. Testing will help decide what treatment is necessary given the new matrix of contaminants. 

If your water comes from the city, your water treatment plant will be working to identify and remove contaminants. As we have discussed elsewhere, testing your city water may still be the best course of action given that:

  • your home’s piping system may impact water quality, and
  • water treatment plants primarily control contaminants that are regulated. 
Core Kit
Advanced City Water Test
109 Analytes Tested
$342.00
Core Kit
Advanced Well Water Test
112 Analytes Tested
$363.00

 

How Can You Protect Yourself From Contamination After Hurricanes? 

Your experience of water contamination will be different based on what kind of contaminants are in your water.[3

Bacteria, like E. coli, can cause stomach issues and diarrhea, while the presence of corrosive metals or hydrogen sulfide can cause the water to smell.

Early symptoms of acute toxicity from drinking water contaminated with bacteria can include stomach and intestinal problems and headaches—symptoms that look a lot like the flu.[4

Other contaminants–like nitrates and nitrites–are odorless, tasteless, and invisible. If you rely on a private well, and live near agricultural land, a hurricane may lead to higher flushing of unnoticed fertilizers and pesticides into your water source. 

Testing Your Water After A Hurricane

We always advocate testing before treating so that you know what’s the best course of action for your water quality. 

Water Testing Made Easy - Tap Score Home Water Testing

If you do identify a bacterial contaminant, boiling water for 1 minute (or 3 minutes at elevation) to destroy waterborne pathogens or installing using proper treatment systems are recommended strategies after a hurricane. 

While generally good advice, boiling water isn’t always the proper course of action—it kills bacteria, but it will also concentrate any heavy metals present . The best way to make sure you’re treating your water properly is to identify what’s in it. 

Check out the complete collection of Tap Score’s water testing packages to make an informed decision or send us a message at hello@gosimplelab.com for more information! 

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