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FAQ: What you should know about Houston's citywide boil water notice

As we wait for test results that could lift the order, here are some answers.
Credit: KHOU 11

HOUSTON — We know you have a lot of questions about the boil water notice issued by the City of Houston on Sunday evening. As we wait for test results that could lift the order, here are some answers.

What does a boil water order mean?
The City of Houston says you need to boil any water you plan on consuming for at least two minutes to remove any possible contaminants. Let it cool before consuming it. You can also use bottled water if that’s an option.

What if our house has its own purification system?
In most situations, even if tap water is filtered, you still need to boil it, according to the city.

I drank tap water before I saw the notice. Am I going to be OK?
The city says right now there is no indication there are contaminants, so you’ll likely be just fine. We won’t know for sure until the test results come in overnight.

What about the ice in my freezer?
If you have an automatic icemaker in your freezer or made ice using tap water, you’ll want to throw it out.

Is it safe to shower?
The city says yes, as long as you don’t swallow any of the water. Although, again, city leaders say there is no indication any of Houston’s water system got contaminated.

Can I wash my hands?
Yes, but use soap and scrub for at least 20 seconds.

Should we brush our teeth with bottled water?
Yes, until the boil water notice is lifted.

What about pets?
The same rules apply: give them water you’ve boiled and let cool or bottled water to drink. You may want to wait to bathe them since it could be harder to control whether they swallow bath water.

Why do we need to boil our water?
The short answer is two transformers at the City of Houston’s East Water Purification Plant went down causing water pressure to drop below 20 psi. That’s the threshold at which TCEQ says contaminants can get into the system.

“We still have no indication that the system was compromised at any point and that it had any kind of catastrophic potential that a larger event might’ve had and caused an immediate notice,” said Houston Public Works Director Carol Haddock.

Why is the entire city affected by the purification plant on the east side of town?
According to Mayor Tuner, the East Water Purification Plan provides water to the entire city in addition to some MUDs.

“Out of an abundance of caution, that’s why the notice was given to everybody,” he said.

How long will this last?
Mayor Turner says the city has taken water samples. Those have to incubate for 18 hours before they’re tested, so the first reading will happen at 3 a.m. Tuesday. If it’s all clear, TCEQ could allow the order to be lifted then.

“We are optimistic the results will come back clean,” Mayor Turner said. “The TCEQ will notify the city once we can rescind the boil water notice. It’s our hope we can get positive word late late tonight or early tomorrow morning.”

Why did I find out from social media, not an email or call from the city?
The city sent out a text and email to those registered for the Houston Alert system around 10:30 p.m.

“I know Chief Buenik with the Department of Homeland Security is taking a look at all of that,” said Mayor Turner. “We’ll see how we can certainly improve it and make sure that it’s much more ubiquitous. We’ll take a look at that.”

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