DO NOT PANIC! What are Drinking Water Advisories and What Should You Actually Do?

DO NOT PANIC! What are Drinking Water Advisories and What Should You Actually Do?
DO NOT PANIC! - some information is correct, some premature, some incorrect during any potential public hazard situation. We like to believe that everyone dealing with a problem in the public's interest wants to do the right thing and advise properly. Sometimes all of the information is not known. This article walks you through the language and resources you need during a Public Water Advisory.


What are Drinking Water Advisories and What Should You Do?

What really does a drinking water advisory mean for those who are in a City Water or Municipally regulated Tap water area?

Drinking water advisories (city water, municipally regulated tap water) tell customers that their tap water or drinking water could be contaminated and may make them sick. 

There are no advisories issued for private well owners or drinking water systems that are NOT regulated! It is up to the owner or private well user to track and ensure the quality of their own drinking water by getting their private well water tested (Get Tested).

Drinking water advisories are used to send a message to users, customers, individuals, business, schools and other institutions that there is a potential problem with the raw drinking water source or the treated water from the public water supply. Information is meant to inform how to act and what to do or not do. Public water systems are also known as a Community Water Supply System or a regulated Non-Community System like a school, gasoline station that serves food, etc. 

One thing we learned from Flint, Michigan and other case studies is that the citizens and most users do not really know what a “Drinking Water Advisory Means” and most Authorities or Water Companies DO NOT Know How to Explain the Situation to their customers and users in a way that makes sense.

Tools We Recommend you have available in case of a Drinking Water Advisory in Your GO Bag!

  1. A source of bottled water, we recommend a bottled spring water - from a local source is better.  Some other options: (Crystal Geyser Alpine Mountain Spring Water) or (Emergency Water Pouch with a long-term shelf life).
  2. One or more - DIY water screening test kits, such as: Safe Home Water Test Kit (DIY)
  3. A DIY pH, conductivity, TDS, temperature and ORP sensor/meter (Hanna Meter -
  4. A portable water filtration system  (Sawyer Water Filters and Purifiers ) or Survivor Filter Pro ( ).

    What Advisories Mean (3 Categories + 1 More to Confuse You!):

    The drinking water advisories typically fall into one of these 3 categories:  “Boil Water Advisory”, “Do Not Drink Advisory”, and “Do Not Use Advisory”. Just to confuse you a little more, there is also something called a Health Advisory that is published by EPA and we will deal with these separately.

    1. Boil Water Advisory

    If your local health officials, water company, water provider, or Authority issues a boil water advisory, you should take the immediate action of not using your drinking water for consumption (DO NOT DRINK!).

    The boil water advisory means that the water may or does contain a pathogen, i.e., a disease-causing agent. The primary actions would include establishing another temporary water source, such as bottled or bulk water, or boiling the water prior to use and consumption.  (Please Note: I did not say filter the water or microwave the water and I did not say drink hot water. I said BOIL - see below!)

    Boil water advisories the details:

    1. Use bottled water, bulk drinking water, or boiled water for drinking, and to prepare and cook food, feeding the pets, brushing your teeth, and making baby formula.
    2. If bottled water is not available, bring your tap water to a full rolling boil for 1 minute for elevations below 6,500 feet and if you live at an elevation of over 6,500 feet a 3 minute rolling boil is needed.  After boiling, allow the water to cool before use and while it is cooling give a good shake to try and “re-aerate” the water, it will taste better.
    3. If a boil water advisory is issued, you CAN NOT just filter your water through a particle filter or install or use a Class B UV water treatment system- this is NOT adequate. The verb in the sentence is “BOILnot filter, but it is ok to boil and then after the water has cooled filter (YES). They make some very good home water coolers that provide ultra filtration and reverse osmosis, but the key is that they need to heat the water to a BOIL and hold it there for the correct amount of time per elevation.
    4. Do not use ICE that comes directly from your automatic ice maker even if the unit has a filter or inline UV unit, the water must be boiled and then cooled and then you can make ice.
    5. For infants, breastfeeding is the better choice than formula. If you are using formula feeding your child, provide ready-to-use formula, if possible, or use bottled water to make formula. If you must use tap water, the water must be boiled (not Microwaved or heated) and cooled. The boiled water should be used within 72 hours (Source:
    6. Use a water screening test on your temporary water source and your water source when it comes off the boil water advisory and then follow-up with conducting a Level 3 informational screening test via a certified laboratory to ensure the lines between the water source and your home/business are free of contaminants.

    Handwashing During a Boil Water Advisory – (After COVID you should be a PRO!):

    1. In many cases, you can use tap water and soap to wash hands during a boil water advisory. DO NOT wash your hands in boiling water or hot water. Follow the guidance from your local public health officials.
    2. Be sure to scrub your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Then, rinse them well under running water, but make sure to dry your hands.
    3. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol (Source: CDC).

    Bathing and Showering During a Boil Water Advisory:

    1. Be careful not to swallow any water when bathing or showering.
    2. Use caution when bathing babies and young children. Consider giving them a sponge bath to reduce the chance of them swallowing water. You do not need to use bottled water, but you can if you wish.

    Brushing Teeth During a Boil Water Advisory:

    1. Brush teeth with boiled water that has cooled or bottled water. Do not use tap water that you have not boiled. You may want to then store your toothbrush in some saline or salt water or fresh “mouthwash” to prevent bacterial regrowth.

    Washing Dishes During a Boil Water Advisory:

    1. If possible, use disposable plates, cups, and utensils during a boil water advisory.
    2. Sanitize all baby bottles.
    3. To wash dishes by hand:
      • Wash and rinse the dishes as you normally would using hot water.
      • In a separate basin, add 1 teaspoon of unscented household liquid bleach for each gallon of warm water.
      • Soak the rinsed dishes in the water for at least one minute.
      • Let the dishes air dry completely before using again.
    4. Household dishwashers generally are safe to use if:
      • The water reaches a final rinse temperature of at least 150 degrees Fahrenheit (66°Celsius), or the dishwater has a sanitizing cycle.
      • At the end of the boil water advisory, we recommend running a sanitizing cycle and using a dishwasher cleaner tablet approved by the manufacturer.

    Laundry and Washing Clothes During a Boil Water Advisory  (Assuming the drinking water is not discolored or turbid):

    Assuming the water is not discolored or turbid, it is likely safe to wash clothes as usual, but I would clean the unit by using chlorine or a citric acid cleaner or a clothes washer cleaning tablet approved by the manufacturer. Washing Machine Cleaner -

    2. Do Not Drink Water Advisory

    Local health authorities issue a do not drink water advisory when your community’s water is, or could be, contaminated with harmful chemicals and toxins, and when boiling water will not make it safe.

    Authorities may recommend limited use of tap water for some tasks, depending on the harmful chemical or toxin contaminating the water. Follow the health officials’ advice carefully to protect your health and your family’s health.

    During a do not drink water advisory, use recently purchased sealed bottled water for drinking and cooking, brushing teeth, washing fruits and vegetables, preparing food, mixing baby formula, making ice, and drinking water for pets and livestock. 

    If you refill bottles of water from the tap - do not use any self-bottled water supply that you are not certain was bottled prior to the do not drink water advisory. It is also not recommended to use unsealed water outside of a 72 hour window if not refrigerated - When in doubt don't use it.

    In some instances, it will be safe to wash hands, flush toilets and shower; in other instances, it will not. You should be cautious when bathing a baby and young children; they might swallow water and some chemicals may adsorb through the skin.

    Do not drink or use water from any appliance connected to your water supply lines. This includes the water and ice dispensers in your refrigerator, freezer and dishwasher.

    3. Do Not Use Water Advisory

    Local health authorities issue a do not use water advisory when your community’s water is, or could be, contaminated with germs, harmful chemicals, toxins, or radioactive materials. Under this advisory any contact, even with the skin, lungs, or eyes, can be dangerous. Do not drink or use tap water from the impacted system for any purpose as long as the advisory is in effect, including for bathing. These types of advisories are rare.

    4. (The additional Consideration to Confuse You!) EPA Health Advisory (HAs)

    Health Advisories (HAs) primarily serve as information to drinking water systems and officials responsible for protecting public health when emergency spills or other contamination situations occur.

    The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) authorizes the EPA to issue HAs for contaminants that are not subject to a National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR) (Source:  42 U.S.C. §300g-1(b)(1)(F)). HA documents provide technical information on chemical and microbial contaminants that can cause human health effects and are known or anticipated to occur in drinking water.

    HA values/levels identify the concentration of a contaminant in drinking water at which adverse health effects and/or aesthetic effects are not anticipated to occur over specific exposure duration (e.g., 1 day, 10 days, a lifetime).

    The HA values/levels issued during a Health Advisory from the EPA are:

    HA: Health Advisory - An estimate of acceptable drinking water levels for a chemical substance based on health effects information; a Health Advisory is not a legally enforceable federal standard, but serves as technical guidance to assist federal, state, and local officials determine whether a water system or test is within acceptable limits.

    One-day HA - The concentration of a chemical in drinking water that is not expected to cause any adverse noncarcinogenic effects for up to one day of exposure.

    Ten-day HA - The concentration of a chemical in drinking water that is not expected to cause any adverse noncarcinogenic effects for up to ten days of exposure.

    Lifetime HA - The concentration of a chemical in drinking water that is not expected to cause any adverse noncarcinogenic effects for a lifetime of exposure.”


    Drinking Water Advisories – Water Standards and Health Advisory Tables (2018)

    Listing of Drinking Water Contaminants

    EPA Health Advisory’s for PFOA, PFOS, GenX Chemicals- Hexafluoropropylene oxide (HFPO) Dimer Acid and Ammonium Salts, and Perfluorobutane Sulfonic Acid and Potassium Salts (PFBS)

    Drinking Water Health Advisories for Two Cyanobacterial Toxins

    Recommended Water Treatment Systems:

    Hydroviv - Customized Point of Use Filters Based on YOUR Water Quality

    Crystal Quest - Point of Use, Point of Entry, Whole House, Coolers, Pitchers

    US Water Systems - Disinfection, Iron, Manganese, PFOS, Taste, Odors