November 2006
Older adults
are considered
vulnerable to
Persons living
with  HIV and
those with
systems are
also at  greater
                          Water Works
                          Information for Older Adults
                          and Family Caregivers
        Water is essential to our lives. We use it for
        drinking, cooking, bathing, cleaning, and
        growing crops. Because water is so integral
to our daily activities, it is important for consumers
to know when it is safe.

Water, if contaminated, can  harm our health espe-
cially that of older persons and those with chronic
conditions. Persons living with HIV and those with
compromised immune systems are also at greater

Environmental contaminants can be encountered in
drinking water and during recreational activities such
as swimming. Contact with water pollutants can also
occur when sewers overflow. You can protect your
health by learning how you can reduce or eliminate
exposure to contaminants in water.

Tap Water in the Home:
Although most drinking water is safe, incidents of
contamination can and do occur. Pollutants that may
be present in the water include chemicals such as
radon, and lead, bacteria  and viruses. This section
describes some of the potential problems you can
find in your household tap water.

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Nearly 1 in 15 homes is estimated
to have high levels of radon. Radon
is especially dangerous because it
is odorless and invisible. Radon
naturally occurs in rock, soil and
water. If your household water
comes from a well, radon  can be
released into the air while shower-
ing. If your home has high levels of
radon, well water may be  one of its

How Can I Avoid
Water-Related Hazards?
The most important step is to be
aware of advisories issued by your
local health department or depart-
ment of environment and  abide by
their advice. Learn about your water
and whether you should test for
certain contaminants.

•  Learn About Your Drinking Water:
   If your water comes from a pub-
   lic water system, it must meet
   EPA standards. Counties are
   required to provide users with
   records  of testing. Check your
   water provider's annual water
   quality report, also called a con-
   sumer confidence report or call
   your water provider to find out
   whether you need to be con-
   cerned about certain types of
   pollution. If you live in an apart-
ment building, ask the manager
to post the consumer confidence
report in a public location. If your
water comes from a well, it is
not subject to EPA standards.
Your household should take spe-
cial precautions, such as  annual
testing, to  ensure that your water
is safe.

Follow Public Notices on
Drinking Water: Your water sup-
plier is required to issue  a notice
by newspaper, radio, TV,  mail or
hand-delivery if there is a water-
borne disease emergency. The
notice will describe any precau-
tions you need to take, such as
boiling your water or using bot-
tled water. Follow the advice of
your water supplier. Boiling water
for one minute will normally kill
micro-organisms but will not
help with chemical contamina-

Contact Your Water Supplier to
See if You  Should Test for Lead:
You cannot see, smell, or taste
lead. Call your local health
department or water supplier to
find out if you should test your
water for lead. Do not boil your
water. Boiling your water will not
rid lead from your water  and will

  actually make the problem worse
  because the concentration of
  lead will increase as the water
  evaporates. If you think your
  plumbing system might contain
  lead, use only cold water for
  drinking and cooking. Run cold
  water until it becomes as cold as
  it can get, especially if you  have
  not used your water for a few
  hours. To find out more, call the
  National Lead Information Center
  at (800) 424-LEAD.

• Test for Radon  in the Air of Your
  Home: There are many kinds of
  low-cost, "do-it-yourself" radon
  test kits that you can purchase
  through the  mail or at hardware
  stores. You can also  have a quali-
  fied professional conduct a test.
  If you have high levels of radon,
  it may be entering your home
  through the water or the soil. If
  your water comes from a public
  water supply, contact your water
  supplier. If you have radon in
  your water from a private well,
  call EPA's Drinking Water Hotline
  at (800) 426-4791.

Water-Related Hazards  from
Older adults are encouraged to
remain physically active. Most
beaches are safe for swimming;
however, beach water may contain
invisible disease-causing microor-
ganisms. Swimming in contaminat-
ed water may result in minor ill-
nesses, such as sore throats or diar-
rhea. Older adults with weakened
immune systems have a greater
chance of getting sick from contam-
inated water.

• Beach Closures: States, tribes,
  and local government health and
  environmental agencies measure
  and identify microorganism levels
  at beaches to see if water meets
  EPA's standards for health. When
  microorganism levels are unsafe,
  agencies post warnings  or close
  the beach. Levels are most likely
  to be high after storms.  It is
  important for older adults with
  health conditions to check and
  follow beach advisories, because
  they may be more susceptible to
  microbes than healthy adults.

Water Infiltration Hazards
in the Home, Especially
after Floods
Inadequate home maintenance is a
potential source of  exposure to
contaminants for older adults. If
home repairs are not carried out as
needed, excessive moisture or

             water may accumu-
             late indoors. This can
             result in mold
             growth, particularly if
             the moisture prob-
             lem remains undis-
covered. Mold can cause allergic
reactions in sensitive individuals,
such as sneezing, runny nose, red
eyes, and skin rash (dermatitis)
and, in some extreme cases,
breathing problems. Contact with
water pollutants can occur when
there is sewage back-flow into your
home.  Contact can occur if your
waste water drainage pipe is
blocked connecting you to the pub-
lic sewage system or a septic sys-
tem due to infiltration from tree
roots.  Sewage backflow is particu-
larly common after catastrophic rain
events that lead to flooding.

•  Inspect Your Home for Leaks:
   Establish a regular program to
   inspect your home for water
   leakage problems in bathrooms,
   the laundry and around windows
   and  doors. Do  not neglect the
   roof gutters and eves. Look for
   signs of leakage.

•  Eliminate Water to Eliminate
   Mold: Mold needs water to grow.
   To prevent mold, fix plumbing
leaks and other water problems
as soon as possible. Scrub mold
off hard surfaces with detergent
and water and dry completely. To
eliminate mold in your home,
clean up the mold and eliminate
the water source. Some cleaning
products are formulated to treat
mold growth.

After the Flood, Clean Damaged
Area: Floods create health risks.
Sewage and other materials can
enter your home through flood
water. Even when the flood
water is clean, standing water
and wet materials are a breeding
ground for microorganisms.
Remove standing water, dry out
your home, and remove wet
materials. Clean and disinfect the
damaged area to reduce your
risk of disease. Rugs, curtains,
and furniture may need to be
replaced if sewage entered your

After the Flood, Inspect Your
Wells: If you have a private well,
do not turn on the pump or use
well  water for drinking or wash-
ing. Talk to your state or local
health department to find out
what precautions to take.

How Can I Protect My Private
Well Water?
Private drinking water supplies are
not subject to EPA standards. If
your water comes from a well, it is
not automatically tested by experts
to identify problems. You must take
special precautions to ensure the
protection and maintenance of your
drinking water:

Identify Potential Problems
Identifying potential problems is
the first step to safeguarding your
drinking water. Start by consulting a
local expert such as your local
health department, agricultural
extension agent, a nearby public
water system, or a geologist at a
local university. Ask them about
problems that may affect the water
quality of your well.

Test Your Well Water
Every Year
Test your well water every year for
bacteria,  nitrates, total dissolved
solids, and pH levels. If you suspect
other contaminants, test for those
as well. Many contaminants are col-
orless and odorless, so you will not
be able to tell if you have a prob-
lem without a test.
More frequent water tests may be
needed when:
• there are unexplained illnesses in
  the family
• your neighbors find a dangerous
  contaminant in their water
• you note a change in water taste,
  odor, color or clarity
• there is a spill of chemicals or
  fuels into or near your well
• you replace or repair any part of
  your well system

Prevent Problems
Keep fertilizers, pesticides, herbi-
cides, fuels, and other pollutants
away from the well. Take care when
working or mowing grass around
your well. Contact your local public
health department to find out how
often you should pump and inspect
your septic system. Do not dispose
of hazardous materials in septic
  How Can I Learn More?
  EPA's Aging Initiative is working
  to protect older adults from
  environmental health risks
  through the coordination of
  research, prevention strategies,
  and  public education. For more
  information, visit

              What Should I Do If  I

             Can't Drink My Water?

During spills or temporary treatment problems, you may not be able
to drink your water for a short time. People with  special health
needs or people living in areas of known water contamination may
need to consider alternative water sources for the long term.

•  Follow Public Notices on Drinking Water: Your  water supplier is
  required to issue a notice by newspaper, radio, TV, mail or hand-
  delivery if there is a waterborne disease emergency. The notice
  will describe any precautions you need to take, such as boiling
  your water or using bottled water. Follow the advice of your water
  supplier. Boiling your water for one minute will normally kill
  microorganisms but will not help with chemical contamination.
•  Drink Bottled Water: Some companies lease or sell water dis-
  pensers or bubblers and regularly deliver large bottles of water to
  homes and businesses. Bottled water can be expensive compared
  to water from a public water system. Bottled water quality varies
  among brands, because of the variations in the source water
  used, costs, and company practices. Persons with compromised
  immune systems may want to read bottled water labels to make
  sure more stringent treatments have been used,  such as reverse
  osmosis, distillation, UV radiation, or filtration by an absolute 1
  micron filter. For more information on whether your bottled water
  meets FDA standards, check with NSF  International
  ( 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. Home treatment
  can include filters used at the  tap or at the connection between
  the water main and the connection to the house. If radon is a
  problem, home treatment may be a solution.

Older adults can be at risk for
dehydration because as people
age the thirst sensation decreas-
es and they do not feel the urge
to drink as often as when they
were younger. They may also
take medications that increase
the risk of dehydration or have
physical conditions that make it
difficult to drink. Exposure to
microorganisms in water can
make people sick, and may
cause diarrhea increasing the
risk of dehydration.

Signs of dehydration include:
•   Dry or sticky mouth
•   Low or no urine output; con-
   centrated urine appears dark
•   Lack of tear drops
•   Sunken eyes
•   Lethargic or comatose (with
   severe  dehydration)
Because dehydration can be life
threatening, drink plenty of
water each day. If you have
decreased your tap water intake
because you do not like the
taste or are concerned for its
quality, you should treat it or
find an alternative source of
water until the problem is
Additional Resources:
Recursos adicionales:

Water on Tap:
What You Need to Know

Arsenic in Drinking Water


Consumer's Guide to Radon

Emergency Disinfection of
Drinking Water


Guidance for people with Severely
Weakened Immune

Information for Private
Well Owners

Mold Resources

Safe Drinking 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