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Boiled, Stored Water Not Safe for Drinking Post-Tsunami

Stored water needs chlorination in order to restore potability in tsunami-ravaged areas

THURSDAY, Dec. 15 (HealthDay News) -- An assessment of household water quality in Indonesian communities affected by the December 2004 tsunami reveals that simply boiling water before storage does not keep it safe for drinking, according to a report presented this week at the 54th annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in Washington, D.C.

The tsunami destroyed the water infrastructure in Aceh, Indonesia, resulting in potentially unsafe drinking water conditions for more than 500,000 individuals. Relief agencies recommended boiling water or chlorinating it before storage. In June 2005, Sundeep K. Gupta, M.D., of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, and colleagues collected water samples from 1,127 households in 21 communities in Aceh Besar and the Simeulue and Nias islands.

Water sources were unimproved (wells or springs) in the island communities while improved (tanker trucks or other clean source) in Aceh Besar. Water obtained from springs carried an adjusted odds ratio (OR) of 2.04 risk of contamination, wells an OR of 2.40, and surface water in Simeulue an OR of 2.68. Defecating in a latrine, handwashing after defecating, and pouring water versus dipping for dispensation were protective against water contamination in Simeulue. Chlorination protected water from contamination in Aceh Besar. Boiling was not protective at any site.

The researchers urged disaster-response agencies to monitor effectiveness of water improvement advisories. "Point of use chlorination protected stored water from contamination, while boiling, though widely promoted, was not found to be effective," they write. "Protection of water sources and improved hygiene and sanitation also reduced the risk of stored water contamination."


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