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Berks Emergency Management offers tips on drinking water for flood victims

Flood victims with private drinking water wells should properly disinfect the well if the well head was covered with water or the area around the well head was flooded.  Until a well has been disinfected and sample results indicate that coliform bacteria are not present, flood victims with private wells should boil their water for drinking and cooking purposes for at least one minute at a rolling boil.

The Department of Environmental Protection only regulates testing at public drinking water systems.  However, following some major disasters DEP expands testing to include homeowners with private well systems to ensure they have access to safe drinking water.  Well testing kits are available at DEP regional offices.  Before a sample is taken and submitted to DEP to be analyzed, the well must be disinfected thoroughly.  The required disinfection materials include a two-gallon or larger bucket; a length of garden hose long enough to reach as far as possible into the well; a funnel that fits into the end of the garden hose, and a suitable quantity of a liquid chlorinating compound.  The chlorinating compound would include unscented laundry bleach containing 5 percent to 6 percent sodium hypochlorite such as most UNSCENTED household laundry bleaches.

The process begins by removing the cover over the well casing, adding the appropriate amount of chlorinating compound to three or four buckets of water and mixing thoroughly.  For liquid chlorinating products with 5 percent to 6 percent available chlorinating chemical, use about 1.5 quarts of the chlorinating product.  Place one end of the garden hose into the well as far as possible.  Place the funnel into the other end of the hose and pour the contents of each bucketful of diluted chlorinating product through the hose while alternately raising and lowering the hose to disperse the disinfectant throughout the water supply.  When the correct amount of disinfectant has been added, close the cover if the well has no pump.  If it has a pump, draw the chlorinated water through all the fixtures and outlets until the smell of chlorine is noticed so that all of the piping and fixtures are disinfected.  The chlorinating solution should remain in the entire water supply system for at least four hours and preferably overnight.  Once the water source is chlorine-free, wait an additional two to five days and then sample for coliform bacteria.  If coliform organisms are present, repeat the disinfection and sampling process.

Heavily contaminated wells may require several applications of disinfectant.  If the well or spring continues to be contaminated after repeated disinfection and sampling, the construction or location of the water supply should be re-evaluated.  Printed directions are available on line at www.berksema.com.

Individuals with questions or concerns about testing wells or other environmental issues should contact the Department of Environmental Protection regional office at 610-916-0100.  For copies of the fact sheet and more flood recovery information on re-entering and cleaning homes and businesses, cleaning up home heating oil, reporting spills and other environmental emergencies, contact the nearest DEP regional office or visit Pennsylvania DEP’s website at www.dep.state.pa.us, Keywork "DEP Flood Recovery."