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Important Information to Keep You Healthy During a Power Outage

January 20, 2012

Power Outage Information

Tacoma-Pierce County WA ��"

Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department cautions that power outages may result in significant health hazards. By taking some simple precautions, Pierce County residents can avoid health risks associated with contaminated drinking water, septic system malfunctions and food safety.

Drinking Water and Wells

If your water supply is from a small water system and your power to the well system is out, your well or water system can become contaminated. Because of pressure loss in the system, contaminants can enter the drinking water supply. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department recommends that when the power is restored, you run your water and check to see if the water has any discoloration, smell or cloudiness. If you observe any of these changes this could indicate a potential problem. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department recommends that you test your water for the presence of bacteria and use a certified laboratory to determine if the water is safe for consumption.

Septic Systems

If the septic system serving your house uses electricity to power a pump, and the power is out, use of the septic system should be curtailed. Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department recommends that you reduce your water usage to a minimum until the power is restored. Your pump tank should have an emergency reserve capacity of about 300 gallons before it fills up. This capacity will not be enough for dishwashing, laundry, or many showers. If the power is out for more than a day, you may want to operate the pump using the manual on/off switch when the power is restored. Turn the pump on for about 3 minutes every 3 hours until the water level in the pump tank returns to normal. This will prevent the pump from discharging the entire reserve amount of effluent into the drainfield at one time.

Food Safety after Power Outages

Refrigerated foods will be safe as long as power is not out for longer than four hours. Keep the refrigerator door shut to prevent warming up the stored food. Discard all potentially hazardous foods, such as meat, poultry, seafood, soft cheeses, milk, and cream that warms above 41 degrees Fahrenheit for more than two hours. This includes cooked foods as well as raw. If in doubt, throw it out! Discard food into your garbage can. Frozen foods that have partially or completely thawed can be re-frozen if they contain ice crystals or are below 41 degrees Fahrenheit.

Community members may also call (253) 798-6470 for questions about drinking water and septic systems or, (253) 798-6460 for questions about food safety from Monday to Friday, 8am to 4:30pm.

You may also find more helpful information about food safety during a power outage at

About Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s mission is to safeguard and enhance the health of the communities of Pierce County. As part of its mission, the Health Department tackles known and emerging health risks through policy, programs and treatment in order to protect public health. Learn more at

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