Boil water orders are issued by MassDEP to local public water suppliers, who in turn issue advisories to their consumers advising them that they should boil their tap water for drinking and other human-consumption uses like cooking, hand washing, brushing teeth, etc. Boil water orders are preventative measures issued to protect public health from waterborne infectious agents that could be or are known to be present in drinking water. Boil water orders are issued by the MassDEP Drinking Water Program (DWP) when MassDEP DWP determines that the consumers of a particular public water system should take precautionary measures with their tap water.
When a boil order is issued by MassDEP to the local public water supplier (PWS), the PWS must take appropriate corrective action, notify/advise its customers, continue to monitor its water supply, and notify customers when it has remedied the problem and the boil water order is lifted. The PWS should be contacted for details, and in limited instances consumers may find more information on their city or town's web site. For general information on boil water orders, consumers may also check the MassDEP or US EPA website and fact sheets on contaminants.
Below are general precautions MassDEP recommends you take when a boil water order has been issued for your community. Please check with your local water department for specific instructions, as these may vary depending on the type of contamination detected.
- DISCARD any ice, juice, formula, stored water and uncooked foods that were prepared with tap water during the period of concern.
- USE BOILED OR BOTTLED WATER for drinking, food preparation, mixing baby formula, making ice, washing food, manual utensil and equipment washing, rinsing and sanitizing, brushing teeth or any other activity involving the consumption of water.
- CHILD CARE CENTERS AND SCHOOLS should use only bottled or boiled water for mixing infant formula, hand washing, and for mixing sanitizing solutions for diapering areas and surfaces such as tabletops and toys. Adult employees should use a hand sanitizer after washing hands with tap water and soap. Do not use drinking fountains and discontinue the use of water play tables. Follow all guidance provided by the Massachusetts Department of Education (DOE) and/or the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care (DEEC).
- RETAIL FOOD ESTABLISHMENTS must follow the guidance of the local board of health and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MassDPH). Wholesale food manufacturers must follow the guidance of MassDPH. Meat processing plants must follow the guidance of MassDPH and the United States Department of Agriculture.
- SWIMMING POOLS, HOT TUBS, AND SPAS that are operated properly, including routine monitoring for adequate disinfection levels, may continue to operate.
- SHARE THIS INFORMATION with all other people who drink this water, especially those who may not have received this notice directly (for example, visitors). You can do this by posting this notice in a public place or distributing copies by hand or mail.
- TRANSLATE THE PRECAUTIONS for anyone who does not understand English.
Tips for drinking water use during a boil order
There are two simple and effective methods you can use to treat drinking water for microbiological contaminants (bacteria).
- Boiling: Bring the water to a rolling boil for at least 1 minute. Laboratory data show this is adequate to make the water safe for drinking.
- Disinfecting: Disinfectant tablets obtained from a wilderness store or pharmacy may be used. In an emergency, liquid chlorine bleach such as CloroxTM or PurexTM can be used at a dose of 8 drops (1/8 teaspoon) of bleach to each gallon of water. (Careful measurement with a clean dropper or other accurate measuring device is required when using liquid chlorine bleach.) Let stand for at least 30 minutes before use. Read the label to see that the bleach has 5-6% chlorine.
You may use a dishwasher if it has a sanitizing cycle. If it does not have a sanitizing cycle, or you are not sure if it does, you may hand wash dishes and utensils by following these steps:
- Wash the dishes as you normally would.
- As a final step, immerse the dishes for at least one minute in lukewarm water to which a teaspoon of bleach per gallon of water has been added.
- Allow the dishes to completely air dry.
- You may also used boiled and cooled water or bottled water.
Bathing and Showering
Young children should be given sponge baths rather than put in a bathtub where they might ingest the tap water. Adults or children should take care not to swallow water when showering.
Brushing your Teeth
Use only disinfected or boiled water for brushing your teeth.
Ice cubes are not safe unless made with disinfected or boiled water. The freezing process does not kill the bacteria or other microorganisms.
Washing Fruit and Vegetables
Use only disinfected or boiled water to wash fruits and vegetables that are to be eaten raw.
You should wash your hands with soap and boiled water, or soap with bottled water. If only tap water is available, it is best to use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after you wash your hands. If neither is possible and your hands have been exposed to germs, such as after using the bathroom, washing with warm tap water and soap and thoroughly drying your hands is much better than not washing them at all. In these instances, try to keep your hands away from your mouth and use a hand sanitizer as soon as possible after you're done.
Bring water to a rolling boil for 1 minute before adding food.
For infants use only prepared canned baby formula that is not condensed and does not require added water. Do not use powdered formulas prepared with contaminated water.
Houseplants and Gardens
Water can be used without treatment for watering household plants and garden plants. The exception would be things like strawberries or tomatoes where the water would contact the edible fruit.
The same precautions taken to protect humans should be applied to pets. Aquatic organisms (e.g. fish) should not be exposed to water containing elevated levels of bacteria. If the organism's water needs to be refreshed use appropriately boiled or bottled water.
Flush All Taps When The Boil Water Order Is Lifted
When flushing it is important to carefully follow the instructions provided. Flush your household and building water lines including: interior and exterior faucets, showers, water/ice dispensers, water treatment units, etc. Water heaters may need to be flushed to remove any contaminated water. Some types of water treatment devices may need to be disinfected or replaced before being used. Check with the manufacturer for details.
Drinking Water Public Health Orders
Database of public-health orders issued by MassDEP over the past calendar year. Updated within 24 hours for all public health orders issued during normal business hours. Orders issued on holidays or weekends are updated within 24 hours of the next business day. For more information about a current order, check your community's website or contact your local water department.
FAQs: Boil Water Order
Frequently asked questions about boil water orders
Instructions for Post-Boil-Water Orders
Guidance for flushing water lines and other safety procedures following the lifting of a boil-water order. May 2010.
MassDPH Guidance for Emergency Action Planning for Retail Food Establishments
From the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, practical guidance for retail grocery and food service establishments to plan and respond to emergencies that create the potential for an imminent health hazard. May 2007.
CDC: Renal Dialysis Units During a Boil Water Advisory
Recommendations for maintaining a safe environment for dialysis centers and patients when a boil-water order is in effect due to pathogen contamination in the water supply.
CDC: Healthcare Water System Repair Following Disruption of Water Supply
Recommended steps to take to restore safe water service in health-care facilities after an emergency.
CDC: Drinking Water Advisory Communication Toolbox
A practical guide and protocol for communicating with stakeholders and the public about water advisories.
CDC: Keep Food and Water Safe After a Disaster or Emergency
General guidance on what to do after an emergency - what to throw away, how to sanitize utensils and surfaces, how to store food safely, and more.
CDC: Drinking Water During an Emergency
The CDC's guidance for emergency planning for water systems.