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BUILDING DAMAGE ASSESSMENT & REPAIR
ASBESTOS IDENTIFICATION IN BUILDINGS
BIOLOGICAL POLLUTANTS in the HOME - EPA
BLACK MOLD, HARMLESS COSMETIC
CARPETING & INDOOR AIR QUALITY
CHIMNEY INSPECTION DIAGNOSIS REPAIR
CRAWL SPACE SAFETY ADVICE
DIRECTORY of MOLD / ENVIRONMENTAL EXPERTS
DISASTERS: BUILDING INSPECTION & REPAIR
DISINFECTING BUILDINGS with BLEACH
EFFLORESCENCE SALTS & WHITE DEPOSITS
FLOOR TILE ASBESTOS IDENTIFICATION
FREEZE-PROOF A BUILDING
GAS EXPOSURE EFFECTS, TOXIC
HEATING OIL EXPOSURE HAZARDS, LIMITS
HOME INSPECTOR DIRECTORY
INDOOR AIR HAZARDS TABLE
INSULATION INSPECTION & IMPROVEMENT
LEAD POISONING HAZARDS GUIDE
METHANE GAS SOURCES
MOISTURE CONTROL in BUILDINGS
MOLD ACTION GUIDE - WHAT TO DO ABOUT MOLD
MVOCs & MOLDY MUSTY ODORS
ODORS GASES SMELLS, DIAGNOSIS & CURE
OIL TANKS INSPECT LEAK TEST ABANDON REGS
OZONE MOLD / ODOR TREATMENT WARNINGS
PAINTS & COATINGS ODORS IN BUILDINGS
RENTERS & TENANTS GUIDE TO INDOOR HAZARDS
ROT, TIMBER ASSESSMENT
SAFETY for SEPTIC INSPECTORS
SEPTIC BACKUP REPAIR
METHANE GAS HAZARDS
SEPTIC & CESSPOOL SAFETY
SEWAGE CONTAMINATION in BUILDINGS
SINKHOLES, WARNING SIGNS
VENTILATION in BUILDINGS
VOCs VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS
VOLTS / AMPS MEASUREMENT EQUIP
VOLTAGE MEASUREMENT METHODS
WATER BARRIERS, EXTERIOR BUILDING
WATER PUMPS, TANKS, TESTS, WELLS, REPAIRS
WELLS CISTERNS & SPRINGS
WINTERIZE A BUILDING
Sewage backup cause, prevention, & response: this article explains how to deal with and test for sewage backup contamination, sewage contamination testing, inspection, and cleanup- remediation in residential and commercial buildings. If you have had sewage back up and spill out of toilets into the building, cleanup is needed and you may face bacterial hazards.
If you have had a sewage backup or burst house drain pipe in your building this document offers some advice on how to test for sewage contamination, bacterial and viral hazards, and links to sewage spill cleanup and bacterial hazard information regarding sewage and septic spill contamination.
We explain why and how testing for sewage contamination is performed and we discuss the urgency of proper cleanup following a sewage backup or spill in a building. The photo above shows what dirt and sewage sludge may look like in a basement after a sewer line backup.
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If your building has had a septic or sewage system backup into the structure
In this article we discuss how to test for bacterial or other pathogens in a building - tests that may be useful after a sewage spill cleanup in order to assure that the building is acceptably clean.
[Click to enlarge any image]
Checking buildings for indoor air quality or other contaminants which may affect occupant health should not omit inspecting and taking site history for evidence of sewage or septic system backups into the structure or basement or crawl space areas below the structure.
Gray water and black water (sewage) can cause a wide range of fungal, bacteriological, viral, and parasitic hazards in buildings.
The photo at left shows evidence of raw sewage overflow in the crawl space under a home. Although a new waste line was installed (the white pipe at the top of the photograph) no cleanup has been performed.
If recurrent sewage contamination has occurred more extensive building cleaning and treatment are likely to be required.
One reason that experts recommend very prompt treatment following a sewage backup in a building is the wish to avoid transmission of bacterial contamination to other building areas.
Examples of sewage bacteria and virus transmission might be by movement of people from contaminated areas to other building areas (tracking contaminated soil), and air movement of aerosolized particles or contaminated dust through the building by natural convection, heating and air conditioning equipment, or other sources of air and dust movement.
Watch out: sewage spills contain contaminants that can cause serious illness or disease.
Disease causing agents in raw sewage include bacteria, fungi, parasites, and viruses and can cause serious illnesses including bacterial infections, Tetanus, Hepatitis A, Leptospirosis, infections by Cryptosporidium & Giardia and gastrointestinal diseases.
For a detailed list of the pathogens found in common household wastewater such as a septic tank and drainfield, see also our discussion of pathogens in sewage at SEWAGE PATHOGENS in SEPTIC SLUDGE: what makes up the contents of residential sewage? (SEWAGE & SEPTIC CONTAMINANTS)
Demolition, cleaning, and disinfection were needed. These surfaces were then re-tested after cleaning and disinfection were complete.
Additional testing was conducted to confirm that the workers did not contaminate other building areas during this cleanup.
While sewage may contain many pathogens harmful to building occupants, testing for this problem usually focuses on indicator organisms including total coliform, fecal coliform, Escherichia coli (E. coli), and Enterococcus as these species are expected in human sewage waste. They are potentially harmful themselves as well as serving as an indicator of sewage contamination.
Typical sampling methods to test for sewage contamination in buildings include use of sterile swabs on sample surfaces both in the suspected area and as a control in other building areas where low or no contamination is expected.
Bulk samples of debris or building materials may also be collected, such as drywall suspected of having been wet with a sewage backup. Samples are sent to a qualified laboratory for culture and examination for these bacteria.
Since there are a variety of tests for bacteria and for possible sewage contamination, specification of the definitive lab test for sewage contamination is important where health concerns are at stake. Be sure to review the test choices with your laboratory before ordering a specific test as test accuracy and cost vary widely.
We also use UV light to screen buildings for sewage contaminants, urine, or other body fluids, including blood. See
This section has moved to SEWAGE CLEANUP STANDARDS
At SEWAGE & SEPTIC CONTAMINANTS we list the pathogens and contaminants commonly found in sewage and in sewage backup waters. In this article series we explain the causes of sewer or septic backups into buildings, the health hazards, testing, and cleanup of sewage backups, and the cure or prevention of future sewage or septic backup problems.
Continue reading at SALVAGE BUILDING CONTENTS if you need to remove and clean or salvage building contents such as clothing & furniture
Green link shows where you are in this article series.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Question: Apartment carpet was flooded by sewage, then shampooed. Is it safe? Should it be Tested?
The plumber that was servicing our water pipe said it was the Main Line where all water goes through toilet, washing ma, tub, etc. plus the tenants above us as well, my concern is the carpet. The apt. did not want to replace the carpet after arguing with them about it. Instead they sent carpet cleaners which the carpet looks good on the outside but is there micro-filth on the inside? So should I have [the carpet] TESTED? - R.L. 2/4/2014
Frankly this sounds worrisome to me: if sewage water has soaked a carpet I'm doubtful that it can be safely cleaned; worse, leaving it in place invites visible or hidden mold contamination; and even when it's dry airborne pathogens can certainly rid dust particles into people's lungs &c.
One would also wonder how cleaning in place can reliably disinfect and clean through the entire thickness of carpeting and padding.
If you are going to live with such a questionable floor covering it might make sense to discuss testing it with an environtmental test lab; discuss the present state of the carpet and what tests would be most reliable. If the carpet had been still wet one might have used a bacterial swab but now, dry, I'm not sure what's the best approach;
What does your local health department say?
Example sewage cleanup guidelines that consider preserving such carpets (as one might do with a valuable area rug) call for removing and disinfecting and cleaning the carpeting and throwing the padding away, cleaning and disinfecting the floor, and using new padding.
Some such sewage spill guidelines are deficient if the floors were wet enough to send wastewater into building wall cavities or into ceiling cavities on lower floors. In such cases further demolition and cleaning are most likely required. See our article SEWAGE BACKUP, WHAT TO DO.
Also take a look at the recommended procedures for cleaning or replacing carpeting that has been soaked with sewage backup or overflow, found at SEWAGE CLEANUP STANDARDS.
And because mold contamination is a risk when carpeting has been wet you will want to read MOLD CONTROL, FLOOD RESPONSE. There you will note that for wall-to-wall carpeting, considering the problems of contamination, shrinkage, padding, and labor to remove, treat and reinstall over new padding, in our experience most insurance companies opt for immediate and complete removal and disposal of the carpeting.
Question: can sewage contaminants become airborne?
(Aug 24, 2014) Janice said:
If proper containment was not used during the basement cleanup andif mechanicals were not protected, such as heating or air conditioning ducts, registers, equipment, indeed it's possible for airborne water droplets or dust carrying sewage pathogens to contaminate those areas or surfaces.
If contaminants moved by air or by people tracking sewage into other building areas, sure there could be related respiratory or other health complaints.
And if the water from the sewage backup was not removed in 24-48 hours - such that all previously-wet basement components were thoroughly dried, there could be a hidden mold reservoir now bothering building occupants.
Question: how much sewage contaminated soil needs to be removed from a basement or crawl space?
(Dec 8, 2014) william brouwer said:
IN my OPINION sewage contaminated soil under a building is a health hazard because of risk of movement of pathogens in building air as gases or dust particles.
As much contaminated soil as can be feasibly removed without undermining foundations or digging to china is removed, the space is sanitized, and a plastic ground cover installed to prevent further entrainment of contaminated dust into the building air.
Question: 1 foot of sewage water was dumped in the crawl space located about 3 feet under my apartment - is sewage-contaminated dirt a hazard?
Marie-Josee Bastien said:
2 weeks ago the main drain of the building where i live (i am a tenant) broke and about 1 foot of sewage water was dumped in the crawl space located about 3 feet under my apartment. The crawl space is made of dirt and the only access to it are the traps located in the apartments (no windows or any opening in the basement other than those ones) The landlady refuses to have the cave inspected by professionnals to determine whether or not the dirt is contaminated or the structure has been affected by the flood.
My question is: does dirt filled with sewage water represent a health hazard for the occupants, especially since the only way any air can get out is inside the tenant's apartment. Must the dirt be removed?
IF sewage spilled on dirt the soil is contaminated certainly at least with bacteria and possibly other pathogens. Moisture droplets that become airborne during cleanup as well as dry dust particles from such soil, if they enter occupied space, are a health risk to occupants.
Standard cleanup procedures are described above at More Reading and include
Watch out also lest workers track unsanitary soils into the building interior. Also it's worth understanding that because there are usually up-draft convection air currents in buildings it is quite possible for airborne gases or small particles in a basement or crawl space to find their way into occupied spaces on upper floors of the same structure .
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