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Wildfires, Drinking Water and You!

July 19, 2018 by HealthyFamilies BC

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Wildfires, Drinking Water and You!

Are you concerned about your drinking water during and/or after a wild fire? Living in beautiful British Columbia means we may have to live through wildfires, and we hope this post will shed a little light on the subject and by the end you’ll feel confident knowing how to protect you and your family from the impacts of wildfires and waterborne illnesses.

If a wildfire blazes through your community, drinking water may become affected and could compromise your health and safety. According to HealthLink BC (HLBC), drinking water quality could be affected by build-up of ash, soil erosion, fire retardant and fire debris. Your water might change colour, smell and taste, but to be on the safe side, we offer the following tips:

  • Conserve water
  • Do not drink tap water unless local officials have assured it’s safe
  • Test your water if it was affected by fire retardants
  • Repair or flush water lines to remove contaminated water
  • Use a different source of drinking water, boil, or use disinfection tablets until the water source can be assessed safe for drinking.

HLBC explains that the impact a wildfire has on local water treatment systems can make it difficult to make drinking water safe. Runoff from storms, rapid snowmelt and fire retardant can all change the quality of the drinking water, and retardant may cause soil and water chemical levels (phosphate, nitrate and nitrite) to rise. So, if you don’t like putting chemicals into your body, keep a supply of bottled water in your vehicle or in a grab-and-go emergency bag.

Although the amount of retardant to find its way into drinking water would be very small (meaning there would be little risk to humans), HLBC does advise, “If inhaled or ingested, immediate first aid is not likely required, however, you should contact a physician or B.C. Drug and Poison Control Center for advice at www.dpic.org/ or call 1 800 567-8911.” If your drinking water is deemed unsafe, authorities or the water supplier will let you know.

And don’t forget to recycle your bottled water; if you go camping every summer, take your emergency stash of bottled water with you and replace your emergency stash with a fresh batch. Hint, hint — you can do this with all your emergency food and batteries, so that you are fully prepared with edible food and functioning batteries in the event of an emergency.

For more detailed information on how to determine drinking water safety after a wildfire, click here.

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