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June 11, 2013

For More Information Contact

  • Matthew LiPani, Central Region Public Information Officer (804) 864-8236

Severe Weather Prompts Health Department to Issue Safety Reminder to Residents

 (RICHMOND, Va.) — The Virginia Department of Health urges residents statewide with wells and septic systems to take extra precautions following recent heavy rains due to the remnants of Tropical Storm Andrea, and in preparation for additional rain expected this week.  Floodwaters may contain sewage and agricultural or industrial waste.  Eating or drinking anything that has come into contact with contaminated water can increase the risk of disease. All Virginians are encouraged to have an emergency preparedness kit, which should include a three-day supply of water; one gallon per person per day to use for drinking, sanitation and cooking.


People who rely on private wells for their drinking water should consider their well contaminated if it was submerged or potentially submerged by floodwater.  Well water should not be used for drinking water until the water system is disinfected and a certified laboratory confirms the well is free of bacteria. Two satisfactory bacteriological tests performed at least 24 hours apart will mean the water supply has been properly disinfected.  Based on the extent of flooding, additional testing might be warranted.  Consider contacting a licensed professional to perform any necessary maintenance, disinfection, or testing.  Until the well is confirmed to be safe, use bottled water or water that has been boiled for a minimum of one minute for drinking, brushing teeth or cooking or preparing food.

Remember that during a power outage your well pump will not function.  If you plan to use a generator to run your well pump have the connections established by a licensed electrician.  The local health department can help.  You can locate the health department in your county by visiting

Onsite Sewage (Septic)

Flooding may cause a backup of sewage.  Look for sewage backups in the plumbing fixtures at the lowest elevation.  Take proper precautions when cleaning surfaces that have been in contact with sewage by wearing gloves and disinfecting contaminated surfaces with diluted bleach.  VDH recommends that persons cleaning such surfaces thoroughly wash hands for at least one minute with warm soap and water after cleaning, including the clothing they wore while cleaning.

Saturated soils around a septic system may cause the system to drain slowly.  Allow time for ground water to recede so the system can return to proper function.  Once floodwaters recede, look for erosion or damage that might have occurred. If any part of the system is exposed or appears damaged, contact your local health department for assistance.  If the septic system remains sluggish for several days, contact your local health department. If you have an operator for the system, contact that person to see whether a follow-up inspection should be performed. 

Conventional systems that do not utilize a pump should function properly even during a power outage, unless flooded.  Systems utilizing pumps and treatment components typically provide a minimum amount of storage capacity (quarter-day storage).

For more information, visit the Virginia Department of Health’s website at and the

Virginia Department of Emergency Management’s website at

Last Updated: 06-11-2013

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