By Elizabeth Feldpausch
Imagine having to boil all of your water before using it in your home. Many of us have come so accustomed to having clean water at our finger tips that the thought of boiling water before use is a foreign concept that we believe only happens in other places in the world. As a result of the water purity systems that have developed over time, clean water is just something that we now expect to have. However, for many people in the city of Pittsburgh, having clean water was recently hard to come by.
For about 100,000 residents in the Pittsburgh area, boiling water for use became a reality.[i] The boil-water advisory was issued due to concerns of possible Giardia contamination.[ii] The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority believes this presence of Giardia was because of a lack of chlorine in the water.[iii] Giardia is an infection that can cause serious complications with dehydration, diarrhea, and lactose intolerance, with the most common way of infection being through swallowing contaminated water. [iv]
As of now, there is no definitive finding that Giardia was in the water, but if found, its impact could be even harder on those with weakened immune systems, the elderly, and very young people.[v] In addition to the symptoms already listed, less common symptoms that could appear in those infected are itchy skin, hives, and swelling of the eyes and joints.[vi]
The infection is most harmful in children,[vii] which is part of what caused the city to close twenty-two schools and two early childhood centers.[viii] The reason for the school closings was to prepare the students for safety during this water crisis, to cover water fountains so no one could drink from them, and to prepare the food services from contaminating the food.[ix] Though no illnesses have been reported thus far, according to the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority,[x] the city would rather be safe than sorry when protecting its residents. The city urged its residents to boil the water in their homes before use in even the simplest daily tasks, such as brushing teeth, because not all water filters are able to remove these bacteria.[xi]
When we are in our homes, we don’t usually think about having to boil water simply to brush our teeth or even to give water to our house pets. But that is exactly what the people of Pittsburgh were faced with, because of a lack of chlorine in their water, which could cause the possible spread of this infection. The city water authorities and local doctors went to great lengths to warn individuals of what to look for in those who have contracted the infection, and to be sure the filtrations were clear before lifting the boil notice for water.[xii] The city even set up over a dozen water distribution sites throughout the city to provide clean water to the residents being impacted.[xiii]
The warnings have now been lifted, but this serves as a reminder that these things can happen anywhere, at any time, and cities need to be able to take the precautions necessary to protect those in the contaminated areas, and solve the problem as quickly as possible, just as Pittsburgh did.[xiv] No signs of the Giardia parasite were found, but the city wanted to be as cautious as possible when dealing with the safety and health of its residents.[xv]
[i] Don Hopey & Adam Smeltz, Water Boil Advisory Continues for Thousands of Pittsburgh Residents, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Feb. 1, 2017, 5:43 PM), http://www.post-gazette.com/local/city/2017/01/31/Half-of-PWSA-s-customers-ordered-to-boil-water-due-to-unspecified-problem/stories/201701310270.
[iii] Pittsburgh Water Problem Closes Schools, Affects 100,000, SALON (Feb. 1, 2017, 9:31 AM), http://www.salon.com/2017/02/01/pittsburgh-water-problem-closes-schools-affects-100000/
[iv] Giardia Infection (giardiasis), Mayo Clinic (Oct. 13, 2015), http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/giardia-infection/basics/complications/con-20024686.
[v] Ben Schmitt, Pittsburgh Water Crisis Raises Possibility of Contracting Parasite that can Lead to Intestinal Problems, TribLive (Feb. 1, 2017, 1:06 PM), http://triblive.com/news/healthnow/11877832-74/parasite-giardia-antibiotic.
[vii]Mayo Clinic supra note iv.
[viii] Hopey & Smeltz, supra note i.
[xii] Schmitt , supra note v.
[xiii] Michelle Chavez, Fox News (Feb. 2, 2017), http://www.foxnews.com/health/2017/02/02/water-testing-update-expected-amid-pittsburgh-contamination-concerns.html.