People fill up water jugs in Mississippi.Share on Pinterest
It is unclear how long the water crisis will last in Mississippi. Brad Vest/Getty Images
  • The capital of Mississippi is in a water crisis with residents unable to get clean drinking water.
  • There has been a near or total loss of water pressure in Jackson, Mississippi.
  • Insufficient water pressure means the city is no longer able to produce the water needed to flush toilets, fight fires, and meet other critical needs.

Mississippi Governor Tate Reeves declared a state of emergency on Tuesday in response to an ongoing water crisis.

Governor Reeves has activated the state’s National Guard to support assistance to the City of Jackson and surrounding areas.

According to the office of the governor, a “total or near total loss” of water pressure throughout Jackson and surrounding areas of Hinds County has created a condition of “disaster and extreme peril” to the safety of people and property in the area.

Insufficient water pressure means the city is no longer able to produce the water needed to flush toilets, fight fires, and meet other critical needs.

State officials are blaming the crisis on longstanding water system problems and this week’s river flooding.

Mississippi health officials have cited conditions that include insufficient staffing at the J.H. Fewell and O.B. Curtis Water Treatment Plants, failure of multiple raw water pumps, and less than optimal disinfection levels that raise the risk of water-borne infections.

At a press conference, governor Reeves emphasized that he does not want to set “unrealistic expectations,” but that efforts are underway to restore water service as quickly as possible.

He told residents to stay safe and not drink the water, as in “too many cases, it is raw water from the reservoir being pushed through the pipes.”

Jackson residents have already been under a boil water notice since late July.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the city’s water failed an inspection in 2020.

The agency warned then that conditions existed that “present an imminent and substantial” endangerment to people reliant on the water system.

This included risk from pathogens like E. coli, and parasites Giardia and Cryptosporidium.

Other major problems addressed by EPA were a failure to replace lead pipes, faulty monitoring equipment, and inadequate staff.

“Lead in drinking water can have long-term health complications in adults resulting in anemia, kidney disease, hypertension, and long-term neurological complications,” Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency room physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told Healthline.

“The water is not safe to drink. I’d even say it’s not safe to brush your teeth with,” State Health Officer Daniel Edney warned in a press conference.

He explained this is because there is inadequate chlorination and an inability to consistently disinfect the water.

Jackson Public Schools (JPS) shifted to remote learning on August 30, stating that they’ll continue to monitor water conditions at schools closely, while conferring with city officials to determine when in-person learning can safely resume.

Dr. Eric Ascher, a family medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital said water is the “perfect vehicle” to carry harmful bacteria and parasites.

“Untreated or poorly treated water supply can carry a host of bacteria that can be harmful to us and cause multiple infections,” he said.

Ascher warned that this water is not suitable for drinking or cooking with, and could carry campylobacter, the most common cause of bacterial diarrhea in the United States.

This pathogen also has the potential to also travel into the bloodstream and cause a life-threatening infection, he said.

“In an emergency, boiling your water makes it safer to drink,” advised Ascher. “The heat will kill most disease causing germs like viruses, bacteria, and parasites.”

“The elderly, pregnant women, as well as infants and young children are at greatest risk for effects from drinking contaminated drinking water,” said Glatter.

He explained this is because their immune systems aren’t as robust as other persons.

“Those who have a weakened immune system with cancer, on immunosuppressive medications such as on chemotherapy are also at increased risk,” he added.

Ascher said the risk of rashes and skin infections like cellulitis from exposure to contaminated water is a real threat as well, especially among people with open wounds or cuts.

“This could particularly pose a serious threat to those with diabetes, peripheral arterial disease, and chronic kidney disease who have compromised wound healing,” said Ascher.

Glatter recommends boiling tap water for one minute to make it safe to drink for those without access to bottled water. However, three minutes are needed at elevations above 6,500 feet.

“This means a full rolling boil, not just mild signs bubbling,” He said.

Glatter added that this doesn’t address harmful metals like mercury, lead or iron, or pesticides and herbicides.

“The use of chlorine or iodine tablets is another option if you don’t have the ability to boil water,” he said.

But Glatter warned that cryptosporidium could be difficult to eradicate, particularly with the use of chlorine tablets.

“Boiling water is always the preferred approach for sterilization of tap water that may be contaminated,” he said.

On Tuesday, the city announced water distribution sites where bottled water will be distributed daily.

The state is also setting up a tanker system to provide water for fire trucks as Jackson’s fire hydrants run dry.

Governor Reeves also announced today that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) granted his request of a federal disaster declaration for the water crisis. This means more resources may soon become available to help Jackson residents during the crisis.

The water infrastructure in Jackson, Mississippi recently failed, causing insufficient water pressure and treatment to serve the city.

The state is distributing bottled water and introducing a tanker system to supply fire trucks as hydrants run dry.

Experts say those most at risk from contaminated water are the elderly, very young, and pregnant people, and the best way to make water safer to drink is by boiling.