Emergency Sanitation & How to Treat Water

All information in this post obtained from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency)

More often than not, water supplies are contaminated during a disaster. This poses a problem for not only drinking purposes, but also for safe and adequate hygiene and sanitation purposes as well. Water must be sanitized to be safe and free from contaminants that could cause illness and even death.

To treat water, follow these steps:
1. Filter the water using a piece of cloth or coffee filter to remove solid particles.
2. Bring it to a rolling boil for about one full minute.
3. Let it cool at least 30 minutes. Water must be cool or the chlorine treatment described below will be useless.
4. Add 16 drop of liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water, or 8 drops per 2-liter bottle of water. Stir to mix. Sodium hypochlorite of the concentration of 5.25% to 6% should be the only active ingredient in the bleach. There should not be any added soap or fragrances. A major bleach manufacturer has also added Sodium Hydroxide as an active ingredient, which they state does not pose a health risk for water treatment.
5. Let stand 30 minutes.
6. If it smells of chlorine. You can use it. If it does not smell of chlorine, add 16 more drop of chlorine bleach per gallon of water (or 8 drops per 2-liter bottle of water), let stand 30 minutes, and smell it again. If it smells of chlorine, you can use it. If it does not smell of chlorine, discard it and find another source of water.

If local public health department information differs from this advice, the local information should prevail.

Water Substitutes

Water Substitutes for Cleansing

-Rubbing alcohol
-Lotions containing alcohol
-Shaving lotion
-Face creams and lotions
-Wet wash cloth to clean teeth, wash face, comb hair, and wash body
-Makeshift shower – Use a spray bottle to shower

The best choice is a solution of 1 part liquid chlorine bleach to 10 parts water. Other commercial disinfectants include HTH, or calcium hypochlorite, which is available at swimming pool supply stores; portable chemical toilets, which are available through recreational vehicle supply stores; and powdered, chlorinated lime, which is available at building supply stores.

Emergency Sewage Disposal
Many times during a disaster people are not only left with contaminated water, but also
they may not even have access to any running water at all. Faucets run dry, and toilets will not flush. It is imperative that human waste be disposed of properly, so as to keep an area free of contamination.
Always have basic sanitation supplies on hand:
-Medium-sized plastic bucket with tight lid.
-Plastic garbage bags and ties (heavy duty)
-Household chlorine bleach
-Soap, liquid detergent
-Toilet paper

Have Supplies on Hand to Build a Makeshift Toilet
If sewage lines are broken but the toilet bowl is usable, place a garbage bag inside the bowl. If the toilet is completely backed up, make your own. Line a medium sized bucket with a garbage bag and make a toilet seat out of two boards placed parallel to each other across the bucket. An old toilet seat will also work.

How to Sanitize Waste
After each use, pour a disinfectant (see Disinfectants) such as bleach into the container. This will help avoid infection and stop the spread of disease. Cover the container tightly when not in use.

How to Dispose of Waste
Bury garbage and human waste to avoid the spread of disease by rats and insects. Dig a pit 2 to 3 feet deep and at least 50 feet downhill or away from any well, spring, or water supply.
If the garbage cannot be buried immediately, it should be stored in a manner so as to not contaminate your living area. Keep on the premises at least one extra 10-gallon garbage can or other waterproof container with a tight fitting cover. This should be lined with paper and/or a plastic bag. And the lid should be fastened to the can to prevent its loss. Such a can may be used for the emergency storage of body wastes until the public sewage system can be put back into action, or until other arrangements can be made. Empty your emergency toilet into this storage can as often as necessary. A small amount of household disinfectant should be added after each use. If you live in an apartment, you may not have a large garbage can or room to keep one. In that case, two smaller covered pails or other containers will do just as well.


Solutions for Apartment Dwellers
Persons in city apartments, office buildings, or homes without yards should keep a supply of waterproof paper containers on hand for emergency waste disposal. Where flush toilets cannot be used and open ground is not available for the construction of privies, such disposable containers offer a practical method of emergency waste collection and disposal. Building managers should plan for the collection of such containers and for their final disposal. Before collection, the used containers may be stored in tightly covered garbage cans or other water tight containers fitted with lids. Homemade soil bags for this purpose can be prepared very easily by putting one large grocery bag inside another, and a layer of shredded newspaper or other absorbent material between. You should have sufficient grocery bags on hand for possible emergencies. A supply of old newspapers will come in handy for other sanitary uses also, such as wrapping garbage and lining larger containers.

Keeping Clean

Keeping clean is essential to good health. Because water is so precious and should be reserved for drinking purposes, consider other ways to wash the body.

Keep Body, Hands, and Cooking and Eating Utensils Clean
-Use proper plates or eat from the original food containers if water is not available for washing dishes.
-Wash and peel all fruits and vegetables.
-Keep all food in covered containers.
-Prepare only as much as will be eaten at each meal.

Controlling Rodents and Insects

-Keep living area clear of debris, garbage, refuse, and body wastes.
-When possible, repair holes to keep out rodents.
-Household insecticides will work in small and enclosed areas.


Intestinal ailments
Consuming contaminated water and food can cause diarrhea, poisoning, and intestinal diseases. Take steps to protect against diseases.

All information obtained from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency)