Some questions you need answers to

May 2, 2010

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Q. How can I be sure my drinking water is safe?

A. If you live in one of the affected communities east of Weston, you need to boil all water for drinking or cooking. As an alternative, you could use disinfectant tablets.

Q. But if there has been a huge break, why is water still coming out of my pipes?

A. The MWRA has emergency water supplies from the Sudbury Aqueduct, Chestnut Hill Reservoir, and Spot Pond Reservoir. The water can be used for showers and for flushing toilets, but is not safe to drink. State officials say the backup supplies are sufficient to last indefinitely.

Q. How long should I boil the water?

A. The water should be at a rolling boil for at least a minute.

Q. Are there any special precautions for children?

A. Children young enough that they are likely to ingest water while bathing should be given sponge baths. For infants, do not use powdered formulas that require water to prepare — use only canned formula that does not require added water.

Q. What about brushing my teeth or washing my hands?

A. You should use boiled or disinfected water.

Q. What about dishwashing?

A. Use disposable dishware, or rinse dishes in a heavily diluted bleach solution (an eighth of a teaspoon of bleach per gallon of water). This advice applies whether you wash by hand or in a dishwasher.

Q. What about my pets?

A. Use the same precautions for pets as for people.

Q. Can I drink the water if I have a filter on my tap or refrigerator, or if I use a pitcher with a filter?

A. Not in this case. Most home filtration systems are designed to improve the taste and odor of water by removing chemicals and impurities, but they do not remove potentially harmful bacteria. You should boil your water or use bottled water in this case.

Q. What are the risks if I drink the tap water?

A. For most people, minor gastrointestinal illness. The biggest concerns are for those with compromised immune systems, such as people with HIV or who are undergoing chemotherapy.

Q. Am I expected to cut back on water use?

A. Governor Deval Patrick urged residents to limit lawn and garden watering and other nonessential water use.

Q. Is it OK to shower?

A. Certainly, but you should avoid swallowing water while doing so.

Q. What if I fed my baby with water yesterday afternoon?

A. It’s OK. The switch to the secondary reservoirs was not made until 6:40 p.m.

Q. Will water pressure in fire hydrants be affected?

A. Boston Fire Department spokesman Steve MacDonald said fire hydrants are operable and will remain so.

Q. How long will the water emergency last?

A. It’s not clear, though it could last several days or more. Officials were struggling last night to determine the cause of the breach and the scope of repairs.

Q. Remind me: Which communities are affected?

A. Arlington,Belmont,Boston, Brookline, Canton, Chelsea, Everett, Hanscom AFB, Lexington, Lynnfield WD, Malden, Marblehead, Medford, Melrose, Milton, Nahant, Norwood, Newton, Quincy, Reading, Revere, Saugus, Somerville, Stoneham, Swampscott, Wakefield, Waltham, Watertown, Winchester, Winthrop

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