Picture the grocery cart of the harried person you saw at the supermarket, preparing to hunker down at home for a few weeks to slow the spread of the coronavirus. There’s toilet paper in there, to be sure. A few pounds of pasta and dried beans. Maybe some hand sanitizer, soap, and disinfectant wipes. And, inevitably, a case or two of bottled water.
Bottled water can be necessary in other emergencies, like hurricanes, when flooding and electrical outages can affect the supply of tap water. But there is no evidence that the novel coronavirus poses a threat to the water supply.
“There is no need for people to buy bottled water,” said Ria Convery said, a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, the agency that supplies water and sewer services to about 3.1 million people in eastern Massachusetts.
Employees are still testing the water on a regular basis and have found no issues, Convery said. They treat the water with ozone, a highly reactive gas that removes viruses, bacteria, and some other contaminants; and with ultraviolet light, “essentially a more potent form of the natural disinfection from sunlight and ensures that any pathogens potentially in our reservoirs are rendered harmless,” Convery said.
“MWRA customers should know that their drinking water is safe and does not carry the coronavirus,” Convery said. “We have staff safely working around the clock — in accordance with CDC guidelines – to maintain the water and sewer services that the 3 million people in our service area rely on.”
Researchers in a small study of three coronavirus patients did find the virus in one patient’s stool samples, drawing concerns over whether the virus can spread through sewage systems. As of March 24, there have been no reported cases of people getting the virus from water or sewage systems.
The World Health Organization called the risk of viral spread through water systems “low,” especially in places that regularly treat their water for potential contaminants. Not only that, but the virus causing the current COVID-19 outbreak is enveloped by a lipid host cell membrane and may be more susceptible to chlorination and ultraviolet light that other viruses with protein host cell membranes, officials from the World Health Organizations wrote in a March 19 guidance.
“Conventional, centralized water treatment methods that use filtration and disinfection should inactivate the COVID-19 virus,” they wrote.
Thomas Bagley, a spokesman for the Boston Water and Sewer Commission, assured residents that the water in the city is tested daily and is safe. But he had another concern: People are cleaning their homes with disinfectant wipes, then flushing them down the toilet, where they can block sewers. That applies to paper towels personal sanitary wipes too, even if they’re marketed as flushable.
“We’ve had a campaign ongoing for the wipes for a long time, because they really have caused problems,” Bagley said. “During heavier rain events, you have overflow that happens, and you see these wipes just coming out of the system. It can cause some serious blockages that have to be removed.”
The solution is easy, Bagley said: Use those wipes and paper towels, then throw them into the trash or recycling bin instead of the toilet.
Gal Tziperman Lotan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 617-929-2043.