Safe drinking water practices after a natural disaster

EAST PALESTINE, OH – FEBRUARY 14: Water is pumped into a creek for aeration on February 14, 2023 in East Palestine, Ohio. A train operated by Norfolk Southern derailed on February 3, releasing toxic fumes and forcing evacuation of residents. (Photo by Angelo Merendino/Getty Images)

(NewsNation) — While authorities say residents are safe to return to their homes after a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, a number of environmental concerns have some residents concerned about water quality.

Nearby, dead fish were found floating in bodies of water near the crash site. Some families that have moved back home have reported they feel sick.

Regulators who have been monitoring insist that the risk to drinking water is low, but are also encouraging residents in East Palestine to consume bottled water in the near term.

The CDC recommends avoiding water that you think may be contaminated or have been told is contaminated for certain tasks like drinking, washing your hands, producing ice, washing dishes or making baby formula.

If you are in a community that has been impacted by a natural or man-made ecological disaster, there are practical steps you can take to keep yourself safe.

make your water safe

If you have access to safe bottled water, you can use that. But the CDC also suggests that if you don’t have bottled water for your use, you can take steps to make your water safe.

One step you can take is to boil your water. This will kill any potentially hazardous organisms in the water like viruses or bacteria. The CDC notes that one way to improve the generally flat taste of boiled water is to pour it from one clean container to another and allow it to sit for a few hours or to add salt.

If boiling isn’t possible, you can also use disinfectant to make the water safer. One possible option is to use bleach as instructed by the EPA here. You also have the option of using a portable water filter.

Test your wells

If you happen to own a private well, it’s important to check the quality of its water. After a disaster, the CDC recommends finding an experienced contractor to service and disinfect your well.

State and local governments usually have departments that can test your water for potentially harmful substances.

The EPA’s website can help you find a laboratory that is certified to test your water.


You don’t have to wait until a disaster hits. FEMA advocates for having an adequate supply of clean water on hand. It suggests maintaining a two-week supply of clean water for every member of your family.

FEMA advises that the average person uses about half a gallon of water each day for drinking — although some people like nursing mothers may require more. Because you might also need water for hygiene or preparing food, you should consider setting aside a gallon of water for each person per day.


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