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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
There are two simple and effective methods you can use to treat drinking water for microbiological contaminants (bacteria).
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Residents are advised to "flush" their water following the lifting of a boil order in order to clear plumbing of potentially contaminated water. Flushing your household and building water lines includes interior and exterior faucets; showers; water and ice dispensers; water treatment units, etc. Please use the following guidance:
Cold Water Faucets: Run tap water until the water feels cold, one minute or more, before drinking tooth-brushing, or using for food preparation. If you have a single-lever faucet, set it to run the cold water first.
Hot Water Faucets: To clear hot-water pipes and water heater of untreated water, change all faucets to hot water and flush for a minimum of 15 minutes for a typical household 40-gallon hot-water tank, 30 minutes for an 80-gallon hot water tank or larger. Hot water is then safe to use for washing hands, and for hand-washing of dishes, pots and pans, etc. Never use water from the "hot" faucet for drinking, cooking, or other internal-consumption purposes.
Dishwashers: After flushing hot water pipes and water heater, run dishwasher empty one time.
Humidifiers: Discard any water used in humidifiers, Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), oral, medical or health care devices, and rinse the device with clean water.
Food and baby formula: Discard baby formula and other foods prepared with water on the day or days of the boil order. (If unsure of the dates contact your water department.)
Refrigerator water-dispensing machine: Water dispensers from refrigerators should be flushed by at least one quart of water. If unsure of your dispenser's capacity, refer to manufacturer specifications.
Ice cubes: Automatic ice dispensers should be emptied of ice made during the boil order and run through a 24-hour cycle, discarding the ice to assure purging of the icemaker water supply line. For medical, dental, and food-service establishments, please refer to the guidance from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health .
Due to the flushing of the lines by residents and the flushing of the hydrants, some customers may experience a lack of water pressure and/or discolored water. However, this is an expected result and does not pose an immediate health risk. Contact your local water department if you have any questions.