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Why Drinking Water is Considered Safe From the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic

By PennState Extension

Apr 07, 2020

Concerned about your water supply being affected by the global pandemic? According to the CDC and the World Health Organization, COVID-19 has not been found in drinking water, so at this time drinking water can be obtained from your normal sources.

Water is essential for all life. Having clean, safe drinking water is necessary for regulating body temperature, hydrating cells, moving nutrients into our cells, and flushing toxins out of our body. With the recent spread of the COVID-19 virus (Coronavirus), we have seen sell-outs of many daily essentials including toilet paper, food, and bottled water. People are clearly concerned about having enough water for themselves and their households. While the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recommends storing one gallon of water per person per day for a 14 day period as a general emergency preparedness guideline, at this time federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are not recommending people purchase additional bottled water. The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that the COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking water supplies, indicating that the risk to water supplies is low. Consequently, it is recommended that Americans continue to use their usual source of drinking water without concern for its safety.1

Public Drinking Water Considerations

If you get your tap water from a public drinking water supply, know that public drinking water suppliers in the United States must meet drinking water standards for over 90 contaminants as required by the Safe Drinking Water Act. One category of contaminants that is regulated under this act includes microorganisms such as viruses, coliform bacteria, E. ColiCryptosporidium, and Giardia. Safe drinking water standards require these waterborne pathogens to be absent from public drinking water,2 so public water systems treat water using filtration and disinfection. These processes remove or kill pathogens that may exist in drinking water. Even if the Coronavirus was able to live and spread from person to person through drinking water, the virus is considered to be susceptible to disinfection and it is understood that the existing filtration and disinfection methods utilized by public drinking water suppliers would be effective for COVID-19 as well.1

At times, public water suppliers may issue boil water advisories if there is a possibility that a community’s water has been contaminated by microorganisms. This is common when a water main breaks or when pipe maintenance needs to be done. While boiling water is an effective method for killing pathogens, it is not currently recommended or needed as a precaution against COVID-19. Keep in mind, COVID-19 has not been found in drinking water sources. People that have utilized public drinking water supplies in the past are encouraged to continue doing so.1

Private Drinking Water Considerations

Over one million households in Pennsylvania get their drinking water from a private source such as a well, spring, or cistern. In Pennsylvania, there are no regulations for private water system construction, maintenance, water testing, water treatment, or water quality. If your tap water comes from one of these private water sources, know that the owner (you, your landlord, etc.) is voluntarily responsible for managing this drinking water. While not required, it is recommended that homes with private water systems regularly test their drinking water, compare their results to the federal drinking water standards, and install treatment as needed. Homeowners concerned about bacteria and pathogens can use treatments such as ultraviolet (UV) sterilization or continuous chlorination to deactivate or kill bacteria in drinking water.3 While disinfection devices are effective for treating waterborne pathogens, recognize that since the COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking water supplies, additional treatment measures are not currently recommended as a precaution against the Coronavirus. People that have utilized a private drinking water source in the past are encouraged to continue doing so.1

Many homes with private water supplies also utilize on-lot septic systems. According to the CDC, COVID-19 has been detected in the feces of some diagnosed patients; however, the WHO has suggested that COVID-19 has not spread by wastewater systems, regardless of if they have been treated or not. While septic systems do not disinfect wastewater, it is expected that a properly maintained septic system is able to managed COVID-19 just as it manages other common pathogens. To ensure septic systems are not impacting private drinking water wells, they should be installed away from wells and regularly inspected and pumped.1

Bottled Water Considerations

Many people choose to drink bottled water over tap water because they believe it is safer, prefer the taste, or because it is more convenient.4 Some homeowners with private wells and springs may choose to drink bottled water if their private water supply contains high levels of pollutants because it may be easier and less costly than treating their water. In general, bottled water comes from an approved source, meets all applicable federal and state standards, and is sealed in a sanitary container prior to being sold for human consumption. The water quality requirements for bottled water are the same as those for public water supplies, although bottled water has additional requirements regarding product labeling and manufacturing, set forth by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). More information on bottled water can be found in the publication, Understanding Bottled Water.5 Since COVID-19 has not been found in drinking water supplies and bottled water is subject to the same standards as public drinking water, it is considered equally as safe as public water supplies. However, purchasing bottled water in an attempt to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus is not encouraged.1

Storing Drinking Water

On a normal day, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security recommends storing one gallon of water per person per day for a 14 day period.6 If you plan on storing water for long periods of time, it is important to do so properly. According to the FDA, bottled water does not have a shelf life; however, it should be kept in a cool, dark place away from sunlight and chemicals in order to maintain its quality over time.7 Various studies have shown that concentrations of some chemicals associated with plastic bottles increased with time, temperature, and exposure to sunlight.8, 9, 10 Additionally, according to the International Bottled Water Association, plastic bottles are slightly permeable any may allow gases and vapors in the air to affect the taste and odor of the water. So, it is recommended to store bottled water away from household chemicals such as cleaning products, paint, or fuel. Overall, it is advised to handle your bottled water the same way you would handle other food items.8

It is possible to store drinking water that comes from a tap in clean plastic soda bottles or similar containers with screw on tops. Containers should be thoroughly washed and disinfected prior to use. Self-bottled water should be stored no longer than six months. It should also be stored in a cool, dark place as mentioned above. For more information on bottling your own water, consult the publication, How to Store Water for Drinking or Cooking .

In Conclusion

The COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking water sources and drinking water supplies are at a very low risk. Based on guidance from the EPA, CDC, and WHO, it is recommended that you continue using your typical source of tap water, as usual. Purchasing and storing large amounts of bottled water is not advised as a preventative measure for preventing exposure to the Coronavirus;1 however, if you choose to store water, ensure that it is kept safely, and in a cool, dark location.7 Also, make sure to properly recycle all of those plastic bottles when you are done with them.

For more information on Coronavirus and drinking water refer to the following federal websites:

CDC: Water Transmission and COVID-19

US EPA: Coronavirus and Drinking Water and Wastewater

Sources

1. “Coronavirus and Drinking Water and Wastewater.” United States Environmental Protection Agency, last modified March 16, 2020.

2. “Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).” United States Environmental Protection Agency, last modified February 27, 2020.

3. Penn State Extension. A Guide to Private Water Systems in Pennsylvania . University Park: The Pennsylvania State University, 2009.

4. Saylor, Amber, L. S. Prokopy, and S. Amberg. “What’s Wrong with the Tap? Examining Perceptions of Tap Water and Bottled Water at Purdue University.” Environmental Management 48 no. 3 (2011): 588-601, accessed March 17, 2020.

5. Swistock, Bryan. “ Understanding Bottled Water .” Penn State Extension. The Pennsylvania State University, last modified June 2, 2016.

6. “Food and Water in an Emergency.” Federal Emergency Management Act. U.S. Department of Homeland Security, last modified August 2004.

7. “Bottled Water Storage.” International Bottled Water Association, 2020.

8. Payan, Luis, M. T. Poyatos, L. Munoz, M. D. La Rubia, R. Pacheco, and N. Ramos. “Study of the influence of storage conditions on the quality and migration levels of antimony in polyethylene terephthalate-bottled water.” Food Science and Technology International 23 no. 4 (2017): 318-327. Accessed March 17, 2020.

9. Jeddi, Maryam Zare, N. Rastkari, R. Ahmadkhanida, M. Yunesian. “Concentrations of phthalates in bottled water under common storage conditions: Do they pose a health risk to children?” Food Research Interanational 69 (2015): 256-265. Accessed March 17, 2020.

10. Bach, Cristina, X. Dauchy, I. Severin, J. Munoz, S. Etienne, M. Chagnon. “Effect of sunlight exposure on the release of intentionally and/or non-intentionally added substances from polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles into water: Chemical analysis and in vitro toxicity.” Food Chemistry 162 (2014): 63-71. Accessed March 17, 2020.

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