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Wildfires can make drinking water toxic

Updated building codes could mitigate the danger.

November 02, 2020 |

Courtesy Pixabay

Analysis after major California wildfires revealed acutely toxic and carcinogenic pollutants within drinking water systems making it unsafe to use even after treatment.

Scientists suspect toxic chemicals originated from a combination of burning vegetation, structures, and plastic materials. Chemicals in the air may have also been sucked into hydrants as water pipes lost pressure, and water system plastics decomposed and leached chemicals into water. Toxic chemicals then spread throughout pipe networks and into buildings.

Codes that require builders to install fire-resistant meter boxes and place them farther from vegetation could prevent infrastructure from burning so readily. Concrete meter boxes and water meters with minimal plastic components would be less likely to ignite.

One-way backflow prevention valves at each meter can prevent contamination rushing out of damaged buildings into the larger buried pipe network. Water main shutoff valves and water sampling taps at every water meter box could help responders quickly determine water safety.

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