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FAQ: How To Flush Water Lines And Appliances

BOSTON — On Tuesday morning, Gov. Deval Patrick lifted the boil-water order that had been in effect since a 10-foot water pipe burst on Saturday. But before water is safe to drink, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority has advised residents to “flush” their water in order to clear plumbing of potentially contaminated water. This includes interior and exterior faucets, showers, water and ice dispensers, water treatment units and more.


Guidelines For Flushing Your Water System

Cold Water Faucets: Run tap water until the water feels cold — typically for at least one minute — before drinking, tooth brushing or using for food preparation.

Hot Water Faucets: To clear hot water pipes and water heaters of untreated water, turn on all hot water faucets and flush for a minimum of 15 minutes for a typical household 40-gallon hot water tank and 30 minutes for an 80-gallon hot water tank or larger. Never use water from the “hot” faucet for drinking, cooking or other internal-consumption purposes. After this flushing, hot water is safe to use for washing hands, and for handwashing of dishes, pots and pans, etc.

Refrigerators: Water dispensers from refrigerators should be flushed with at least a quart of water.

Dishwashers: After flushing hot water pipes and water heater, run dishwasher empty one time.

Humidifiers: Discard any water used in humidifiers, Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), oral, medical or health care devices, and rinse the device with clean water.

Food and baby formula:
Be sure you have discarded any baby formula or other foods prepared with water on the days of the boil order. (If unsure of the dates, contact your water department.) This includes drinks such as Gatorade made with powder or concentrate.

Ice cubes: Automatic ice dispensers should be emptied of ice made during the boil order. Then, discard ice made over an additional 24-hour period to assure complete purging of the water line.

Water filters: Clean or change your water filter, or contact the filter manufacturer for more details.

Water supplies for pets: Pet owners should follow the same protocol for their pets’ water supply as they would for themselves, which means flushing out their water systems before serving tap water to an animal. Contact your veterinarian if you think your pet is ill due to drinking contaminated water.

Due to the flushing-out of taps, water mains and fire hydrants, some residents may experience a lack of water pressure and/or discolored water. However, this is an expected result and does not pose a health risk, according to Fred Laskey, the MWRA’s executive director.

“That increased rate of flow will sometimes loosen up some rust that may have built up on the side of the pipe. That’s the discoloration. That’s safe. You can run it till your tap comes clear. But that’s not any indication of any organic matter in there that may cause problems with your stomach or anything like that.”

Fred Laskey, Massachusetts Water Resources Authority

State officials also said that more than 90 percent of the tap water that had been flowing to affected communities during most of the boil-water order was actually treated, greatly reducing the chance that anyone will become sick from having consumed contaminated water.

State officials said water from the emergency reserves that were tapped during the crisis had been treated with a larger-than-usual amount of chlorine, and then blended with treated water from the regular MWRA system. That combination meant that any water containing potentially harmful organisms was heavily diluted, helping protect public health.

Any lingering chlorine smell does not pose a health risk, Laskey said.

Contact your local water department if you have additional questions.

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