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Mobile Medical Devices During Disaster: Water Contamination

The follwing is third in a series of articles reviewing FDA guidelines on using Medical Devices in a disaster, with my comments in italics from my reflections about volunteering in medical clinics following Katrina. Water Contamination:

Some medical devices and equipment, such as dialyzers or IV pumps, require safe water in their use, cleaning, and maintenance.

Hurricanes, especially if accompanied by a tidal surge or flooding, can contaminate the public water supply. In the area hit by a hurricane, water treatment plants may not be operating; even if they are, storm damage and flooding can contaminate water lines.
This was the case after Katrina. Flooding not only brought industrial waste but also oil from tanks displaced from their foundations.

Listen for public announcements about the safety of the municipal water supply.

In an emergency situation, follow these steps to ensure that your water is safe for use with your medical device:

Use only bottled, boiled, or treated water until your supply is tested and found safe.

If you use bottled water, be sure it came from a safe source. If you do not know that the water came from a safe source, you should boil or treat it before you use it.

Boiling water, when practical, is the preferred way to kill harmful bacteria and parasites. Bringing water to a rolling boil for 1 minute will kill most organisms.

When boiling water is not practical, you can treat water with chlorine tablets, iodine tablets, or unscented household chlorine bleach (5.25% sodium hypochlorite).
This was a common way of treating water after Katrina.

If you use household chlorine bleach, add 1/8 teaspoon (~0.75 mL) of bleach per gallon of water if the water is clear. For cloudy water, add 1/4 teaspoon (~1.50 mL) of bleach per gallon. Mix the solution thoroughly and let it stand for about 30 minutes before using it.

Note: Treating water with chlorine tablets, iodine tablets, or liquid bleach will not kill parasitic organisms.

Use a bleach solution to rinse water containers before reusing them. Use water storage tanks and other types of containers with caution. For example, fire truck storage tanks and previously used cans or bottles may be contaminated with microbes or chemicals.
The summer heat allowed for microbes to grow even faster, following Katrina.

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About the Author


Dr. Schwimmer's blog explores the intersection of medicine, new technologies, and the Internet.