109 Governor Street, Richmond, Virginia 23219● www.vdh.virginia.gov
Aug. 30, 2011
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
For More Information Contact
Michelle Peregoy, VDH (804) 864-7963
HEALTH OFFICIALS URGE RESIDENTS DEPENDENT ON WELLS AND SEPTIC SYSTEMS TO TAKE EXTRA PRECAUTIONS
RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia residents who depend on wells and septic systems that have been affected by flooding from Hurricane Irene need to take extra precautions to protect their health.
Floodwaters may contain fecal material from overflowing sewage systems and agricultural and industrial waste. Eating or drinking anything that has come in contact with contaminated water increases the risk for disease. Residents with wells should consider the possibility that their well is contaminated if submerged. Power outages can also cause additional problems because wells and some septic tanks need power to operate.
Onsite Sewage Systems
If your septic tank/drainfield system was damaged by the storm or if the soil is saturated, minimize water use within the house to prevent raw sewage from discharging to the ground surface. Minimize contact with sewage-contaminated waters. Use gloves and protective gear and wash any exposed skin with soap and water as soon as possible. Disinfect any exposed human contact surfaces with diluted bleach water.
If your system has been damaged or remains sluggish, you will need to complete an application to repair your damaged system with the local health department or contact your Alternative Onsite Sewage System Operator to inspect your alternative system
People who rely on private wells for their water should consider their well contaminated if it was submerged or they believe it is possible the well became submerged during the hurricane.
If the well was flooded and underwater, consider it contaminated and disinfect the well and the water system using this procedure: http://www.wellwater.bse.vt.edu/files/SHOCK442-663_PDF.pdf. The procedure is shock chlorination, which is a process of disinfecting the well with chlorine to kill the bacteria. The water should not be consumed until bacteriological testing indicates the well is not contaminated. Two satisfactory bacteriological tests performed on samples taken at least 24 hours apart will indicate your water supply has been properly disinfected. Be sure to carefully follow the instructions from a lab when collecting your water samples. Exposing the water or container to a source of bacteriological contamination (fingers, breath, etc.) could give a false positive result.
Labs certified to test drinking water are available at this website:
Lastly, if you are unsure if the well was flooded, assume that it was and use another water source until the water supply is disinfected.
Power outages can cause problems for homeowners with wells and/or certain onsite sewage systems. If your home is served by a well, the well pump will not work when the power goes out. Keep sufficient potable water on hand for drinking and cooking. Toilets can be flushed by pouring a bucketful of water into the tank and using the handle or by pouring a bucketful into the bowl. Many well pumps operate on a 240 volt circuit, so if you plan to use a generator to run your well pump during a power outage, have the connections established by a licensed electrician. Remember – water and electricity are very dangerous together.
Some onsite sewage systems may also fail to operate properly during a power outage. The pump won’t work without power in systems with pumps, but most onsite sewage systems with a pump should have 100-200 gallons storage capacity above the high level alarm. Exceeding this storage capacity could cause the pump chamber to overflow, spilling raw sewage on the ground. Use water sparingly.
Many alternative systems also have electrical components such as aerators, flow control switches and other equipment. Many alternative systems also include a pump and should have a limited amount of storage capacity as noted above. Alternative system owners should call their licensed Alternative Onsite Sewage System Operator as soon as possible once the power returns if some components do not seem to be functioning properly.
For more information, log onto the Virginia Department of Emergency Management website at www.vaemergency.gov or the Virginia Department of Health website at http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/EnvironmentalHealth/Onsite/