Published: April 28, 2015

    Protect Yourself Against Boil Water Alerts

    In February of 2015, the township or Moorestown, New Jersey found itself under a boil water advisory when higher than acceptable levels of coliform bacteria were found in the water supply. The incident was short-lived and fortunately not serious, but serves to illustrate how vulnerable our water system is to bacterial contamination.

    The US has one of the best water treatment systems in the world—waterborne threats such as cholera and typhoid are almost unheard of in North America. That doesn’t mean, however, that our water can’t be contaminated by microorganisms. And with our water treatment infrastructure aging rapidly, it’s highly possible we’re going to see an increase in boil water advisories in the future.

    Is Coliform Bacteria Dangerous?

    Whether or not coliform bacteria is dangerous depends on the strain of bacterium. Most are harmless, but fecal coliform bacterial strains can cause illness. The most infamous coliform bacteria, E.coli, are fecal coliform, the most serious of which is a strain called E.coli O157:H7. E.coli O157:H7 produces the Shiga toxin and can cause bloody diarrhea and kidney failure.

    Coliform Bacteria Test

    Water supply facilities have three tests for coliform bacteria. The first, Total Coliforms, tests for a wide range of coliform bacteria normally found in the soil or on vegetation. A positive total coliform test indicates environmental contamination, increasing the possibility harmful pathogens are also present.

    Fecal coliform bacteria tests indicate the presence of coliform bacteria found in the intestines of human and animals, and indicates some degree of fecal contamination. This further increases the risk of pathogens that may pose an immediate risk to public health, and a boil water advisory is issued. A positive test for E.coli represents the greatest risk.

    Reacting to Boil Water Advisories

    During a boil water advisory, all water used for drinking, cooking, and teeth brushing must be boiled at a full rolling boil for at least a minute. People with compromised immune systems—the very young and the elderly—are at particular risk from fecal coliform infection.

    At its best, a boil water advisory is a frustrating inconvenience. At its worst, the presence of coliform bacteria can cause life-threatening illness. One of the great advantages of a Pelican whole house filtration system with UV is you can ignore boil water advisories—the filter’s anti-bacterial UV effectively kills coliform bacteria, as well as a wide range of other pathogens and microorganisms that can infiltrate your water.