A boil water alert should be considered where there is a risk that cannot immediately be rectified and consumers will be exposed to contaminated water.
This page forms part of the NSW Health response protocol for water utilities and public health units: Managing Pathogen Risks in Drinking Water.
Under Section 22 of the Public Health Act 2010, the Chief Health Officer has the power to issue advice, for the benefit of the public, concerning the safety of drinking water and any possible risks to health. This advice may include a boil water alert. The supplier of drinking water concerned must issue the advice to the public in such form and manner directed by the Chief Health Officer. The power to provide this advice is delegated to PHU Directors.
The PHU should consult with the Water Unit, Environmental Health Branch, Health Protection NSW when considering a boil water alert.
A local water utility may issue a boil water alert of its own accord. However, before issuing a boil water alert, the utility should consult with their PHU.
The water utility, PHU, Water Unit and/or Chief Health Officer will consider the following when determining the need for a boil water alert:
Once a decision is made to issue a boil water alert, the water utility must notify consumers urgently. The investigation should have confirmed where consumers are already exposed to the contamination, or when they will be exposed.
The conditions for lifting the boil water alert should be discussed with the PHU at the time that the alert is placed. These should include evidence of a sanitary survey, rectification of any problems, evidence that reservoir openings have been sealed and contamination removed, evidence that the supply system is operating normally (e.g. adequate filtration turbidity, adequate disinfection residual in distribution system), and clear microbiology sampling results.
NSW Health has standard words for a boil water alert due to:
In issuing a boil water alert the water utility should use the best means to communicate the information, possibly including:
Include the time and date in all updates, as messages are often repeated by others at a later time, especially across social media.
The water utility must:
The water utility, PHU and DoI Water should maintain close communication during the boil water alert to ensure all parties are kept up to date with findings and corrective actions.
The PHU should consider the need for enhanced surveillance for illness in communities where boil water alerts have been issued.
The water utility must consult the PHU before lifting a boil water alert.
In lifting a boil water alert, the water utility should communicate the information in the same way the alert was issued. The water utility should also:
Directly following completion of the incident response, arrange a debrief discussion with relevant stakeholders, including all staff involved, NSW Health and DoI Water. The debrief should allow stakeholders to discuss the incident and address any issues or concerns. The aim of the debrief is to allow the utility, NSW Health and DoI Water to learn from the incident and improve operations and responses.
The debrief discussion should be followed up with a written summary report on the incident considering factors such as:
Utilities should consider the need to support staff who may feel a significant burden of responsibility for an incident (e.g. through counselling or an employee assistance program).
Contact your local Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055 and refer to: