My Boil Order Upbringing


There is a lot to love about Small Town, USA, but something that is not discussed is the lack of clean water. I grew up in a rural community with a population under 130, about 30 miles northwest of the capital city. You would think being that close to the city would ensure better quality water, but that was not my reality. While my friends could run around their yards under the summer sun and sip water from the hose, I would have to ask my dad if I could get a glass of water or if it would make me sick.

My hometown was often under a boil water advisory, also called a boil order. This means that the water supply is likely contaminated with a bacteria that can cause illness. When a community is notified of an advisory, all water that may be consumed needs to reach a full boil before it can be safely used. This makes simple things like brushing your teeth or filling a pet’s water bowl much more inconvenient. Whether it happens to you or not, it is important to know what to do or avoid when there is a boil order and the reality that millions face:

  1. Any water used for consumption needs to be at a full boil for at least one minute before it can be used. Then allow it to cool for consumption. This includes water used for cooking, drinking, and feeding to pets.
  2. Do not wash fruits/vegetables in tap water prior to consumption.
  3. Do not use water or ice from an appliance that is connected to the water line.
  4. Use boiled or bottled water for brushing teeth.
  5. Use boiled or bottled water for coffee and tea.
  6. Do not use it to fill a pool, or any recreational water play.
  7. Take precautions when showering to avoid swallowing water.

Those were the house rules I lived by and even though I haven’t lived there for over five years, I still avoid tap water. It was my sister who pointed out that growing up under a boil order so frequently normalized the mindset to just avoid it. We were used to taking precautions in our day to day; now we have to unlearn the habits that molded our adolescence.

As a child, I didn’t always realize the safety hazard or the level of inconvenience my family experienced that others did not. I didn’t appreciate the hoops my dad jumped through to make sure our health was taken care of. Then, as a teenager, I was frustrated with the extra hassle that didn’t seem fair when I started realizing my friends in the next town over didn’t live like I did. Admittedly, there were also times I was embarrassed to have people over because I didn’t want to explain they couldn’t just grab a drink. When I visit home now, I understand there’s nothing my family could do other than make the best out of the circumstances. I’m very appreciative of the way I was taken care of when put in a situation where something as basic as water wasn’t as simple as it seemed.



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