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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Free water test kits available

Free well water test kits are now available through county health departments

Private well owners in Iowa’s 49 flood-ravaged counties may receive a helping hand from University Hygienic Laboratory (UHL) with free water testing.

“UHL has always provided free water analysis kits in disaster situations for as long as I can remember,” said Nancy Hall, UHL supervisor of environmental microbiology and staff member for 31 years. “Probably the largest event was the flood of ’93, but Faye Wheeler (UHL accountant) and I can remember many before and some after, such as the 100 kits we sent to Worth County in 2004.”

Floodwaters that have inundated private wells create a health hazard for their owners. Waste and other contaminants carried in floodwaters can enter and contaminate the well, rendering the water unsafe to drink. After floodwaters recede, a shock-chlorination procedure is necessary to restore the well water to its original condition. The only way to ensure the water is then safe to drink is to test for total coliform bacteria and E. coli.

“The first condition for UHL to provide free water analysis to the counties is the governor’s disaster declaration,” Hall said. “The second is that the county has depleted their state-appropriated Grants-To-Counties monies for the year, which pay for the water testing; and third, there is a need for these services.”

Gov. Chet Culver has declared 49 counties disaster areas as of late Tuesday.

More information from UHL:
Common illnesses from exposure to floodwaters
• Skin and tissue infections following superficial cuts, scratches, abrasions, or insect bites.
• Deep tissue infections following puncture wounds or trauma.
• Gastrointestinal illnesses following ingestion of contaminated water or food.
Prevention of flood-related illnesses – remember basic hygiene practices
• Always wash hands with soap and water before eating and handling flood-contaminated articles
• Avoid prolonged exposure to flood water.
• Wear protective gloves, boots, and eyewear.
• Work cautiously, rest frequently and eat a balanced diet.
• Bathe or shower in clean water as soon as possible after exposure to flood water.
• Wash clothing before wearing it again.
• Use insect repellents to discourage biting insects.
Safe drinking water options
• Obtain water from a known safe public water supply or buy bottled water.
• Haul and store drinking water in clean containers (not old milk or juice jugs).
• Clear water may be treated for drinking by boiling it for one minute or by adding two to three drops of unscented household bleach per gallon.
Private well recommendations
• Do not drink water from flooded wells unless it has been properly disinfected and then tested for drinking safety.
• Contact your local county health department or extension service for free flood sampling containers and advice.
• Shock chlorinate and flush a flooded well before submitting a sample to the Laboratory.
• Shallow wells (less than 100 feet deep) may become contaminated from nearby flooding. They should be tested to ensure a safe supply of drinking water.
Food safety recommendations
• Discard all containers with signs of leakage or damage.
• Foods in paper, cardboard, or flexible plastic must be thrown away.
• Discard foods in corked bottles, canisters, and screw-capped jars or bottles.
• Canned goods may be sanitized and used if the label is removed, the can is washed in hot, soapy water, and the item is identified with a permanent marking pen.
• Solutions containing chlorine bleach are not recommended for cleaning cans because they accelerate rusting.
• Garden produce covered by flood water longer than two days cannot be salvaged.
• Leafy vegetables cannot be washed adequately to be eaten raw.
• Thawed foods should not be refrozen.
General clean-up after a flood
• Use non-sudsing cleaning products (Spic and Span, Trisodium Phosphate, etc.) to wash interior surfaces.
• Use commercial cleaners for fabrics.
• Disinfect sewage-contaminated areas with a solution of household bleach (1/4 cup per gallon of water).
• Consult professional carpet cleaners before attempting to salvage carpet or carpet pads.
• Remove flood damaged sheet rock to permit studs and insulation to dry thoroughly.
• Remove silt, sludge, and debris from ductwork and dry it thoroughly before reactivating heating/air conditioning units.
UHL services to flood families
• Free private well tests to qualified individuals through county health departments.
• Consultation on disease prevention, water and food safety, and disinfection of environmental surfaces.

For more information on flood-related health issues, visit the IDPH website:

Why is it important to test your well water after it has been compromised with floodwaters?

  • Floodwater may and usually does contain fecal material from overflowing sewage systems, agricultural run-off and industrial byproducts. Sewage contaminated floodwater is likely to contain microorganisms that can make us sick, especially if ingested. 
  • Diarrhea illness may be acquired by accidently drinking water that has been contaminated with floodwater. If you are on your own well water supply and if floodwater has inundated the well, it is not safe to drink unless disinfected (boil for 1 min). After the waters recede, the well should be flushed until clear (removing any mud or particulates), shock chlorinated, flushed again, and then retested for coliform bacteria to make sure the water is now safe to drink. If a flooded well is tested BEFORE the shock chlorination procedure, it will ALWAYS be positive for coliform bacteria and not give valuable information. The county health departments have been sent kits to test water for this purpose.