A boil water advisory is a public notification advising customers to boil tap water before consuming it. Advisories are issued when an event has occurred that has caused a known degradation to water quality or that has the potential to adversely affect water quality.

Customers are instructed to boil water to kill any potential organisms until the issue is resolved and the notice can be lifted. Contamination from organisms, such as bacteria, viruses and parasites, can cause symptoms, including nausea, cramps, diarrhea and associated headaches.

What actions do I need to take?

If notified of a boil water advisory, DO NOT DRINK THE WATER WITHOUT BOILING IT FIRST. Bring water to a rolling boil, let it boil for one minute, and cool before using; or use bottled water. You should use boiled or bottled water for drinking, making ice, washing dishes, brushing teeth and food preparation until you are notified that the advisory has been lifted.

We also recommend the following steps:

  • Throw away uncooked food, beverages or ice cubes if made with tap water during the day of the advisory
  • Keep boiled water in the refrigerator for drinking
  • Do not swallow water while you are showering or bathing
  • Provide pets with boiled water after cooling
  • Do not use home filtering devices in place of boiling or using bottled water; Most home water filters will not provide adequate protection from microorganisms
  • Use only boiled water to treat minor injuries; When showering or bathing, avoid allowing the water to come in contact with an open wound
  • Do not wash salad items with tap water during the period; Use bottled water or freshly boiled and cooled tap water

How long does a boil water advisory last until it can be lifted? According to PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) guidelines, water samples must be collected to test for bacteria in the distribution system. The first samples are taken on the day when the issue (e.g. main break) has been corrected, and then another set of samples are taken in the next 24 hours. Two consecutive days of "clean" test results are required before DEP will allow the advisory to be lifted. (The process takes 18-24 hours for test results to come back from the laboratory, so final lab results to lift an advisory can take several days after the event.)

You will be notified when the corrective actions have been completed and you no longer need to boil your water. This information will also be provided on Pennsylvania American Water’s website under Alerts.

What should I do once the advisory is lifted?

Customers under a boil water advisory can resume normal water usage when the notice is lifted without taking additional measures. If you experience cloudy or discolored water, you should run your faucets for a few minutes until the water runs clear.

Do I need to flush my pipes?

The company will notify you if it is necessary to flush household pipes and will provide instruction for steps to take prior to using the water. Flushing simply means letting the water run to ensure that no contaminated water remains in your pipes. Most boil water advisories do not require flushing household pipes, and customers can resume their normal water use immediately after the advisory is lifted unless instructed otherwise by the company. If customers are advised to flush household plumbing, the guidelines will likely include:

  • Run all cold water faucets in your home for at least five minutes at one time with the highest water flow possible to prevent splashing or flooding of the drains
  • To flush automatic ice makers, make three batches of ice and discard
  • Run water softeners through a regeneration cycle. Follow the manufacturer’s guidelines specified in the owner’s manual
  • Run drinking water fountains and water coolers with direct water connections for at least five minutes at the highest flow rate possible
  • Change refrigerator filters

Again, the bullet points above are only to follow at the company’s instruction and are generally not necessary following a boil water advisory.

Can I use the water for showering and bathing?

Yes. Just be careful not to drink the water while you shower or bathe.

Can I use the water for laundry?

Yes, it is OK to do laundry.

Can I use the water for washing dishes?

You should NOT use the dishwasher, because the water temperature doesn’t reach the boiling point. Dishes should be hand-washed with water that has been boiled first. Or, you can use hot, soapy water and add one tablespoon of bleach per gallon as a precaution, and rinse dishes in cooled water that has been boiled first.

Do I still need to boil my water if I have a filter system on my faucet or refrigerator?

Most point-of-use filters are designed to improve the aesthetics of water (improve taste and odor), and not to remove harmful bacteria. You can learn about the capability of your filter by contacting the manufacturer. If in doubt, you should boil your water or use bottled water even if you have a filtering system.