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Drinking water considered safe from the novel coronavirus

Penn State Extension expert reassures residents: ‘It’s one thing you don’t need to worry about’

Series: Coronavirus | Story 54

Experts around the world agree that drinking water is not a source of the novel coronavirus causing the global COVID-19 pandemic, so that should be one less thing for stressed-out Pennsylvania residents to worry about, according to a Penn State Extension educator.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, the novel coronavirus has not been found in drinking water. That’s a very strong indication that drinking water can be obtained from your normal sources, says Danielle Rhea, water resources extension educator based in Jefferson County.

“WHO has stated that the virus that causes COVID-19 has not been detected in drinking water supplies, indicating that the risk to water supplies is low,” she said. “Consequently, it is recommended that Americans continue to use their usual source of drinking water without concern for its safety.”

With the recent spread of COVID-19, people have been stockpiling many daily essentials including toilet paper, food and bottled water, Rhea noted. People are clearly concerned about having enough water for themselves and their households.

While the Federal Emergency Management Agency recommends storing one gallon of water per person per day for a 14-day period as a general emergency preparedness guideline, Rhea added, federal agencies such as the CDC and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency currently are not recommending people purchase additional bottled water.

Significant precautions have long been in place to protect public drinking water, Rhea pointed out. Consumers who get their tap water from a public drinking water supply should know that public drinking water suppliers in the United States must meet drinking water standards for more than 90 contaminants as required by the Safe Drinking Water Act. One category of contaminants regulated under this act includes microorganisms such as viruses, coliform bacteria, E. coli, Cryptosporidium and Giardia.

“Safe drinking water standards require these waterborne pathogens to be absent from public drinking water, so public water systems treat water using filtration and disinfection,” she said. “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 this virus as well.

At times, public water suppliers may issue boil-water advisories if there is a possibility that microorganisms have contaminated a community’s water. This situation is common when a water main breaks or when pipe maintenance is conducted. 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, this novel coronavirus has not been found in drinking water sources,” Rhea said. “People who have utilized public drinking water supplies in the past are encouraged to continue doing so.”

Private drinking water considerations are different, Rhea explained. More than 1 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, testing, treatment or quality.

“If your tap water comes from one of these private water sources, know that the property owner or landlord is responsible for managing this drinking water,” Rhea said. “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 sterilization or continuous chlorination to deactivate or kill bacteria in drinking water, she explained. While disinfection devices are effective for treating waterborne pathogens, recognize that the COVID-19 virus has not been detected in drinking water supplies, Rhea emphasized.

“So additional treatment measures are not currently recommended as a precaution against the coronavirus,” she said. “People who have utilized a private drinking water source in the past are encouraged to continue doing so.”

Regarding bottled water, in general, it comes from an approved source, meets all applicable federal and state standards, and is sealed in a sanitary container before being sold for human consumption. The water quality requirements for bottled water are the same as those for public water supplies; however, bottled water has additional requirements regarding product labeling and manufacturing, set forth by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

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, Rhea suggested. And 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.

“But because the coronavirus 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,” she said. “However, purchasing bottled water in an attempt to prevent the spread of the coronavirus is not encouraged.”

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

DC: Water Transmission and COVID-19 — https://bit.ly/3btpm2t

US EPA: Coronavirus and Drinking Water and Wastewater — https://bit.ly/2xt3mWA

For more information related to drinking water safety from Penn State Extension, see A Guide to Private Water Systems in Pennsylvania — https://bit.ly/2wwirXA

Understanding Bottled Water — https://bit.ly/2xnuxSO

Safe Drinking Water Clinic Webinar — https://bit.ly/39pPidH

Many educational pieces about drinking water — https://bit.ly/2QNaVyt


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