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Water Preparedness

Water Preparedness Fact Sheet, from Washington Military Department, Division of Emergency Management

Water Purification

The storage and purification of water are vital issues in the grand scheme of disaster preparedness. It is important to know how to store water properly before disaster strikes and even more important to know how to purify water after a disaster. Here are some important tips to help you.

Storage :

  • Store water in thoroughly washed plastic, fiberglass or enamel-lined metal containers.
  • Never use a container that has held toxic substances.
  • Plastic containers, such as soft drink bottles are best. You can also purchase food-grade plastic buckets or drums.
  • Seal water containers tightly, label and store them in a cool, dark place.
  • Adding oxygen by pouring water back and forth between two clean containers will improve the taste of stored water.
  • Replace the water every six months.

Purification - General :

While the storage of water is fairly simple and straight forward, water purification is a bit more complex. In addition to having a bad odor and taste, contaminated water can contain microorganisms that cause diseases such as dysentery, typhoid and hepatitis.

You should purify all water of uncertain purity before using it for drinking, food preparation or hygiene. There are many ways to purify water. None is perfect. Often the best method is a combination of methods.

Boiling and disinfecting will kill most microbes but will not remove other contaminants such as heavy metals, salts and most other chemicals.

Distillation will remove microbes that resist boiling and disinfecting plus heavy metals, salts and most other chemicals. Before purifying, let any suspended particles settle to the bottom, or strain them through layers of paper towel or a clean cloth.

Purification - Boiling :

  • Boiling is the safest method of purifying water. Bring water to a rolling boil for 3-5 minutes, keeping in mind some water will evaporate.
  • Let the water cool before drinking.
  • Boiled water will taste better if you put oxygen back into it by pouring the water back and forth between two clean containers.

Purification - Disinfecting :

  • You can use household bleach to kill microorganisms. Use only regular household bleach that contains 5.25 percent sodium hypochlorite.
  • Do not use scented bleaches, color-safe bleaches or bleaches with added cleaners.
  • Add 16 drops of bleach per gallon of water, stir and let stand 30 minutes. If the water does not have a slight bleach odor, repeat the dosage and let stand another 15 minutes.
  • The only agent used to purify water should be household liquid bleach. Other chemicals, such as iodine or water treatment products sold in camping or surplus stores that do not contain 5.25 percent sodium hypochlorite as the only active  ingredient, are not recommended and should not be used.

Purification - Distillation :

  • Distillation involves boiling water and then collecting the vapor that condenses back to water. The condensed water will not  include salt and other impurities.
  • To distill, fill a pot halfway with water.
  • Tie a cup to the handle on the pot's lid so that the cup will hang right-side-up when the lid is upside-down (make sure the cup is not dangling into the water) and boil the water for 20 minutes.
  • The water that drips from the lid into the cup is distilled.

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