October 2009
                              Water  Works
                              Information  for Older Adults and Family
                              Members  Who Take Care of Older Adults
Are you an older

adult or do you
have an ongoing
health problem?

If so, take extra
care. You may be
less able  to fight

off disease than
others. And you
may get sick from

polluted water
more easily.
          We all need water to live.
          We use it for drinking,
          cooking, bathing, cleaning,
          and growing crops.
Some water is not safe. It is polluted.
It has harmful matter in it that can
make you sick.
Harmful matter can be in any water.
It can be in your drinking water. It
can be in the water where you swim.
It can be in water from sewers that
overflow. You can protect your health
by learning how to avoid  unsafe water.

Tap Water in the Home

Most drinking water is safe. But
sometimes harmful matter gets in
it and makes it unsafe to  use. This
section describes some of the ways
your tap water in your house can
become polluted.

Lead in your water is bad news. As time
goes by, lead builds up in your bones.
It can cause pain in the muscles and
joints. It can damage your brain and
your nerves. Some plumbing systems
have lead in the pipes. Old pipes can
wear down and let lead into the water.

Microbes are bacteria and other unseen
matter that are in your drinking water.
Most microbes will not harm you. But
some microbes carry disease and can
make you very sick. Salmonella and
E. Coli are examples of harmful microbes
that can cause serious illness. Some
211 million cases of illness caused by
harmful microbes occur in the U.S.
each year1.

If your water comes from a public
water system, it is tested for arsenic.
EPA (the Environmental Protection
Agency) sets the standard for the
levels of arsenic allowed in the water.
However, the standard does not cover
private wells or very small water
systems. Does your drinking water
come from a well or from a very small
system? If so, you may want to test it
for arsenic.

Radon gas is the second leading cause
of lung cancer in the United States.
You can't see or smell Radon. It can be
in the rocks,  in the soil, and in water.
There are many ways that Radon can
get into the home. One way is through
well water. When you shower with
well water, Radon can get into the air.
But Radon can be in your home no
matter what  water supply you have.
It's a good idea to have your home
tested for Radon.

How  Can I Avoid
Unsafe Water?

Be aware of  any announcement by
your local health department about
a water problem. Follow the advice
carefully. Find out if there are any
ongoing problems with your water.
1 Mead PS, Slutsker L, Dietz V, McCaig LF, Bresee JS, Shapiro C, Griffin PM, Tauxe RV.
 Food-Related Illness and Death in the United States. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 1999; 5(5):607-625
                       EPA Drinking Water Hotline (800) 426-4791


Older adults can suffer
from not drinking enough
water. This is called
dehydration. The feeling of
being thirsty declines with
age. You may not feel the
urge to drink as often as
when you were younger.
You may take medicines
that reduce the water in
your body. You may have
a physical problem that
makes it hard to drink.
Diarrhea and other health
problems may rob your
body of needed water.

Signs of dehydration

   Dry or sticky  mouth

   Low or no urine output
   (urine without much
   water in it appears dark

   Lack of tear drops

   Sunken eyes

   Tired all the time

Your body needs a lot
of water. Dehydration is
life threatening. If you
don't drink enough water
because you don't like the
taste of your tap water:

   Filter the water

   Get bottled water

But don't ignore  the
dangers of dehydration.
Give your body the water
it needs to keep  alive and
Here are some safety steps
you can take:
1.   Learn About Your Water:
    If your water comes from a
    public water system, it must
    meet EPA standards. Call your
    water company. Ask if there are
    any problems with your water
    supply. Ask for a copy of the
    annual water quality report. If
    you live in an apartment, ask
    the manager to post the water
    quality report.
    If your water comes from a
    well, it is not covered by EPA
    Standards. You must get your
    well water tested at least once
    each year. It's the only way to
    find out if your well water  is
    safe to use.
2.   Follow public notices about
    drinking water: Something
    may happen to make your
    drinking water in your house
    unsafe. Your water company
    will let people know about this
    by TV, radio, newspaper, or
    other means. The notice will
    tell you what to do to be safe.
    Sometimes you will have to
    boil the water for one minute.
    Sometimes you will have to use
    bottled water for a time. To stay
    safe, follow all the directions
3.   See if you should test for
    lead: Call your local health
    department or water company.
    Ask if you need to test your
    water for lead. If so, do not
    boil the water. Boiling will  not
    get rid of the lead. It will make
    the problem worse. As the
    water evaporates, the amount
    of lead in the boiled water
    will increase. If you think your
    plumbing system might have
    lead in it, don't use the hot
    water. Use only cold water for
    drinking and cooking. Run the
    cold water until it becomes as
    cold as it can get.
    To find out more, call the
    National Lead Information
    Center at (800) 424-LEAD.
4.  Test for Radon in the Air of
   Your Home: There are many
   low-cost, "do-it-yourself" radon
   test kits that you can buy. You
   can get them by mail or at the
   hardware store. You can also
   pay a professional to test your
   home for radon. If you have
   high levels of radon, it may be
   coming from the water. If your
   water comes from a public
   water supply, contact your water
   company. If you have radon in
   your water from a private well,
   call EPA's Drinking Water Hotline
   at (800) 426-4791.

How Can I Avoid Water
That Is Unsafe for

Most beaches are safe for
swimming. But not all beaches are
safe all the time. Sometimes beach
water contains harmful matter that
can cause problems. Swimming in it
can give you a sore throat, diarrhea,
or  other illnesses.
   Beach Closures: Look for
   warning signs posted at the
   When the water is unsafe,
   agencies will close the beach or
   post warning signs. After storms
   levels of harmful matter in the
   water are most likely to be high.

How Can I Avoid  Health
Problems from Leaks
and Floods?

Keep water from seeping indoors
by making needed home repairs.
Moisture and water can cause mold
to  grow indoors. And mold can give
some people skin rash, runny nose,
and even breathing problems.
A sewer backflow can bring
polluted water into your home. This
can happen if a water drainage pipe
to  your sewer or septic system is
blocked. Sewage backflow often
occurs during heavy rains that cause

   Inspect Your Home for Leaks:
   Establish a regular program
   to inspect your home for
   leaks. Check the bathrooms,
   the laundry, and around the
   windows and doors. Do not
   neglect the roof gutters and
   eaves. Fix all leaks as soon as
   Get Rid of Mold: Scrub mold
   off hard surfaces with soap
   and water or with a cleaner
   designed to kill mold. Dry the
   area completely. Make sure
   the water cannot return to that
  After a Flood, Clean Damaged
   Areas: Standing water and
   wet material are a health
   risk. They can breed disease.
   Remove all standing water
   and wet material. Dry out your
   home. Clean and disinfect the
   damaged area. You may need
   to replace rugs, curtains, and
   furniture if sewage came into
   your home.

How Can I  Be Sure My

Well Water Is Safe?

Well water users can take these
safety steps:
1.  Become Aware of any Local
   Talk with a local expert. This
   could be-
    your local health  department
    an agricultural extension
    a nearby public water system
    a water expert at your local
   Ask them about problems with
   well water in your area.
2.  Test Your Well Water Every
   A well is a private source of
   water. No one will inspect your
   well water. You have to get
   it tested yourself. Often you
   cannot see or smell harmful
What Should I Do If I
Can't Drink My Water?
Sometimes there is a
problem with treating the
water. When this happens,
you may not be able to
drink your water for a short

Do you have special health
needs? Do you live in an
area with low water quality?
In either case, you may
want to switch to another
water source for the long term.
   Follow Public Notices on Drinking Water: You
   will be notified on TV, radio or in the newspaper if
   there is a problem with your water. The notice will
   tell you what to do during this time. It may tell you
   to boil the water or to use bottled water. Boiling
   your water for one minute will usually kill microbes.
   Boiling will  not take out lead or  chemicals.

   Drink Bottled Water: Some companies sell or
   lease a water service. They provide water dispensers
   and deliver large bottles of water to homes and
   businesses. Some brands of bottled water are better
   than others. If you are an older adult or if you have
   health problems, you may want  to get bottled water
   that is purified. Read bottled water labels. Look for
   special treatment such as filtration or distillation.
   For information on the standards for bottled water,
   check with NSF International:
   (http://www.nsf.org/consumer/bottled_water/ or
   call 877-8-NSF-HELP).
   Install a Home Treatment System: If you have a
   long-term water problem, home treatment may be
   necessary. A home treatment system can include
   filters of different kinds. If radon is a problem, home
   treatment may be a solution.

   matter that is in the water. The well water must
   be tested by an expert. Get it tested every year.
   Also test the water any time there may be a
    Test it if someone in your family is sick and
     you don't know why.
    Test it if your neighbors find something
     harmful in their water.
    Test it if you see a change in your water. (The
     water isn't clear or there is a change in its
     taste, odor, or color).
    Test it if there is a spill of chemicals or fuels
     into or near your well.
    Test it if you replace or repair any part of your
     well system.
3.  Prevent  Problems
    Keep things that can poison the water away
     from your well. Keep materials such as
     fertilizers, pesticides and fuels far away from
     your well.
    Take care when working or mowing grass
     around your well.
    Do not put paints, thinners, waste oils,
     poisons or other unsafe materials in your
     septic system.
    Find out how often you should pump and
     inspect your septic system. Ask your local
     health  department.

How Can I Learn  More about

Aging and  Health?

EPA's Aging Initiative is working to protect older
adults from health risks in the environment. For
more information, go to www.epa.gov/aging.
How Can I Get More Information?
These EPA websites can help you solve your water

Water on Tap: What You need to Know

Arsenic in Drinking Water

Consumer's Guide to Radon Protection

Emergency Disinfection of Drinking

Flood Clean Up

Guidance for Persons with Severely
Weakened Immune Systems

After-the-Flood Information for Private
Well Owners

Mold Resources

Safe Drinking Water

Federal Guideline on Prudent Disposal of
             Protecting the Health
             of Older Americans
                                              Easy-to-read version of Water Works
                                              Publication Number EPA 100-F-09-046
EPA Drinking Water Hotline (800) 426-4791