More than 58,000 fires scorched the United States last year, and 2021 is on track to be even drier. What many people don’t realize is that these wildfires can do lasting damage beyond the reach of the flames – they can contaminate entire drinking water systems with carcinogens that last for months after the blaze. That water flows to homes, contaminating the plumbing, too.
Over the past four years, wildfires have contaminated drinking water distribution networks and building plumbing for more than 240,000 people.
Small water systems serving housing developments, mobile home parks, businesses and small towns have been particularly hard-hit. Most didn’t realize their water was unsafe until weeks to months after the fire.
The problem starts when wildfire smoke gets into the system or plastic in water systems heats up. Heating can cause plastics to release harmful chemicals, like benzene, which can contaminate drinking water and permeate the system.
As an environmental engineer, I and my colleagues work with communities recovering from wildfires and other natural disasters. Last year, at least seven water systems were found to be contaminated, suggesting drinking water contamination may be a more widespread problem than people realize.
Our new study identifies critical issues that households and businesses should consider after a wildfire. Failing to address them can harm people’s health – mental, physical and financial.
Wildfires make drinking water unsafe
When wildfires damage water distribution pipes, wells and the plumbing in homes and other buildings, they can create immediate health risks…
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