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Boston water emergency: How a hospital operates without water


Boston is on its third day of water emergency, after two major pipe ruptures left much of the city without safe tap water. The Boston Globe has an article today describing how Massachusetts General Hospital has had to operate without tap water or ice and only a limited amount of bottled water.

Sanitizing foam, hydrogen peroxide, and bath-in-a-bag towelettes work in a pinch for cleaning hands, tools and patients, respectively. But people aren't the only species whose safety is a concern:

Officials had to ensure the safety of animals in experiments, too, under government regulations. Tap water was an issue, even in the safe nourishment of lab mice.

Animal research is already time consuming and costly; scrapping a major experiment because of an epidemic of mouse diarrhea is enough to make a scientist go crazy. Speaking of going crazy:

In the basement, several large 60-gallon vats were boiling water, which was to be cooled and later used for food preparation, including washing salads or mixing with soups. But there was no water for coffee, much to the dismay of sleep-deprived employees.

Waterborne diarrheal disease is nothing to sneeze at, for sure. But mass caffeine deprivation has to have an effect on bedside manner.

Fortunately, the pipe disaster happened over the weekend, which left the hospital's "Incident Command" extra time to address water issues. But something like this could easily happen again, and soon. A recent article from an award-winning New York Times investigative series describes the crumbling state of U.S. water infrastructure:

Today, a significant water line bursts on average every two minutes somewhere in the country, according to a New York Times analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data.

State and federal studies indicate that thousands of water and sewer systems may be too old to function properly.

For decades, these systems - some built around the time of the Civil War - have been ignored by politicians and residents accustomed to paying almost nothing for water delivery and sewage removal. And so each year, hundreds of thousands of ruptures damage streets and homes and cause dangerous pollutants to seep into drinking water supplies.

If the Y2K scare didn't make you stock up on bottled water, your crumbling municipal water pipes might.

Photo by latente

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